A recent Court of Appeals case, Town of Cross Plains v. Kitt’s Korner, Inc. 2008AP546 illustrates the risk involved in opening a new business on the assumption that a possible change in zoning will not effect its operation if the business is already up and running.
In that case, an adult entertainment business was opened on a parcel which, at the time it commenced operation, was zoned in such a fashion that such a business was not a prohibited use. The owner of the business naturally incurred costs in the start up of the business. The owner was aware of the fact that an ordinance amending the zoning to prohibit such a business on the land in question was coming up for vote, but apparently believed that his expenditure, and the actual operation of the business for a period of time prior to any adoption of the proposed ordinance, would create a situation in which his business would be "grandfathered in" even if the amendment to the zoning ordinance was adopted.
Although the law does recognize that, in certain fairly rare circumstances, expenditure of funds based on a reasonable reliance that zoning will not be changed can create vested rights which will not be impacted by zoning changes, the Court of Appeals held in this case that there could be no reasonable reliance because the owner was aware of the pending vote on the ordinance amendment, but chose open the business regardless. Expenditures made were made despite the fact that the owner new that zoning prohibiting the business was contemplated and could be adopted.
When opening a business, it would be prudent not only to review current zoning, but also to inquire whether any modifications in zoning are being considered.