I get asked this a lot, or something similar, such as, “Where can I buy land that they will allow me to build a house out of a Quonset hut?”
Sadly, there are many places where local restrictions and requirements control what a new house can and can’t look like. Generally speaking, these restrictions are intended to prevent someone like me from doing something “weird” like building a Quonset House. In some cases these restrictions take the form of government regulations forbidding Quonset hut homes. In other cases there are rules set up by Home Owners Associations (HOA’s for short) that prohibit them. Although I think Quonset hut homes are great, and if you’re reading this you likely do too, it’s a sad fact that many people think they’re too weird to be allowed. It’s sadder still that these people can prevail through the law and HOA’s to prevent you from building your dream Quonset hut home next door to them. While I wouldn’t want to be neighbors with those kinds of NIMBY’s anyway, I have to ask, whatever happened to property rights?
But I digress. Let’s look at how to go about figuring this all out. Here’s what you need to know.
Broadly speaking, the two main things you need to investigate are: 1) the planning & zoning regulations on the property in question, and 2) whether there is an HOA with their own rules dictating what you can or can’t build.
In some places, the zoning and/or HOA regulations will plainly spell out that Quonset huts are expressly forbidden. For example, the Santa Cruz County, Arizona zoning code forbids Quonset huts for residential use (download the pdf here and look at page 103 at the bottom.) “Metal prefabricated buildings, Quonset huts and butler type buildings are prohibited for
On the other hand, the website of Andrew County, Missouri, states that, “Andrew County has no zoning ordinances in the county. There may be some zoning issues in the incorporated areas (cities) of the county but none in the county. Thus the lack of zoning in Andrew County also dictates that the County has no authority to issue building permits or occupancy permits.” So, basically, you can build whatever you want to there, provided you are not within a city that has its own regulations or an HOA. Remember, just because the county doesn’t have zoning regulations, it doesn’t mean HOA’s can’t still control what happens within their own boundaries.
In other cases, it may not be so immediately clear what is allowed and what is not. Let’s take a closer look at both planning/zoning and HOA’s separately.
Planning + Zoning Search
Your Planning & Zoning office is a branch of your local government, and most cities/towns/counties have all the information you will need online. If the property is within an incorporated city or town, start with the website of the city or town government. If the property is in an unincorporated part of your county, then check out the county government website. Try a Google search for “name-of-your-city planning and zoning department” for example. Depending on how your local jurisdiction is set up internally, your Planning & Zoning Department may be under a larger umbrella such as the “Construction Services Division” or “Community Development” or something similar.
First you need to figure out what zone the property is in, and then determine if a Quonset house is allowed in that zone. Most jurisdictions have an official map that you can download as a PDF. The map will indicate graphically what zone is where, either by colors or some other means. Find your lot or parcel on the map and see what zone it is in. Then find the rules for that zone in the zoning code. This part can be tedious and complex. Sometimes its easier to call the department from the phone number on the website, or email them and ask. If you do this, have the address or parcel number ready for them to look up, or tell them which zone you’re inquiring about the rules for. If you have to leave a message, remember these are bureaucrats after all and they may or may not not be prompt in returning your call call. Be persistent! Call back frequently if you have to (although I don’t recommend bombarding them with voice mails every time if they don’t pick up.) Going in person to the office and asking at the public counter might be easier if they aren’t as responsive as you’d like.
Another approach to the research is to try to download a PDF of the zoning code, and search within the text of the code for the word “Quonset”.
HOA’s and CC&R’s
The rules of the HOA are called “CC&R’s” which stands for Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions. These private agreements govern with the force of law, so read every word and understand what you can and cannot do before buying in an area with and HOA! Some HOA’s are relatively hands-off and only worry about things like local road maintenance, whereas others are very hands-on about what you can and cannot build.
You should be able to get the CC&R’s in writing if you are contemplating making an offer on a property. Realtors are often a good source for these documents. Don’t take anybody’s word for it, get it in writing. If the CC&R’s dictate particular building materials, like “must have a tile roof” or if they spell out the architectural style, paint colors, etc. then this isn’t the right property for your dream Quonset home.
Similarly, if the CC&R’s describe having an “Architectural Committee” that must review your plans for approval prior to construction, and it’s in a neighborhood with exclusively traditional-looking homes, then your Quonset hut dream probably won’t fly with the neighbors.
I’m personally of the view that it’s a horrible intrusion into everyone’s property rights for Quonset huts to be restricted the way they are in some areas, yet this is the reality of the world we live in. Hopefully these tips will help you navigate this aspect of your property purchase a little more easily.
The good news is that in many rural areas there isn’t any zoning at all! In our part of Arizona, there are county zoning regulations, but nothing about what your house should look like. We were also careful to purchase in an area with no HOA.
Do your due diligence during your property search, and you should be able to find just the right spot for your Quonset build. With a little homework, you can learn whether or not that lot you’ve had your eye on is suitable for building your dream Quonset hut home.
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