Electric Vehicles and Zoning Laws

As electric vehicles become more common among drivers, so too will charging stations, both in abundance and location. Where these stations are placed, though, could present several challenges and potential impacts on zoning laws.

Fuel pump and electric car charger with red and blue backdrop
Aaron S. Evenchik

Aaron S. Evenchik and Robert A. Cooper

February 20, 2023 12:00 AM

The percentage of electric vehicles on the road is growing quickly, and with the price of gas rising, more people will consider replacing their gas-powered vehicles with electric vehicles. However, internal combustion cars will continue to require gas for the foreseeable future. Despite this, a shift will likely come where charging stations are more abundant than filling stations and located elsewhere from traditional gas stations. This shift will change how land is used, and zoning codes and comprehensive plans need to keep pace with these changes.

Gas cars and electric cars have different operation and maintenance needs. Owners of gas cars require regular and conveniently located filling stations to power their cars. Conversely, owners of electric vehicles generally charge their cars at their homes or offices and only need charging stations on longer commutes. This will reduce demand for high-traffic corners and highway interchanges for gas stations.

Moreover, electric vehicles are currently more expensive than gas vehicles, even with the $7,500tax credit (which itself is only useful for someone who pays at least that much in taxes). That means buyers of electric cars are more affluent. The affluent customer is desirable to the marketplace.

Another consideration for electric vehicles is the time it takes to charge them. Even the fastest electric vehicles take tens of minutes to charge, rather than just a minute or two for gas. While a small convenience store may suffice to get gas for the average driver, someone charging their electric car outside their home requires both time and the added financial impact of installing a car-charging station directly at home. This may imply a correlation between electric car drivers and higher pay, which markets will inevitably notice and find to be more attractive buyers.

Retail owners would be smart to consider the installation of electric charging stations (and possibly subsidized electrically) in their parking lots. These charging stations will attract electric vehicle owners when they are close to nearby restaurants or shopping. Additionally, these shopping center owners will need to have adequate chargers for owners who leave their cars parked in charging spaces beyond the time needed to charge their vehicles. While these locations are not on street corners per se, they should often be located near highway interchanges, so long-distance travelers know where they can stop, shop, eat and charge their vehicles.

This same analysis applies to hotel uses. Hotels with overnight charging will draw customers with electric cars. While higher-end hotels previously desired distance and buffering from gas filling stations, that is not true of electric charging stations. Hotels will face the same challenge of owners leaving their cars in the charging space overnight, even when the car is fully charged. Hotels will need adequate charging as well. A guest who can’t charge overnight will be an unhappy guest.

Many current zoning codes and maps separate corner gas station retail from higher-end shopping center retail and hotels. That must be rethought. Zoning codes should be updated to permit the installation of charging stations as part of the retail or hotel experience. Already Tesla has retail stores in several malls. Zoning codes may further permit electric car repair areas as part of the retail center, especially as the typical smells of oils and similar liquids are reduced.

Apartments and multi-family developments will also require adequate electric charging to draw tenants. With assigned spaces, it is possible that almost every space will eventually need a charger. Several states, including Florida and California, have taken the lead in adapting and/or creating laws to make it easier for owners living in multi-family developments (condominiums and/or homeowner associations) to install electric vehicle charging stations in the common areas and parking spaces. With approximately 1.5 million multi-family condominium units in the state of Florida, in 2018, the Florida Legislature amended the Condominium Act (or specifically, Section 718.113, Florida Statutes) to allow owners and condominium associations to install (and cannot prohibit the installation of) electric charging stations in the common areas and parking spaces. California has adopted a similar law under California Civil Code Section 4745. It is anticipated that many more state legislatures will be looking to add to or amend their laws to accommodate electric charging stations.

Land planners and zoning code administrators need to consider and be proactive in making these changes to cooperate with their retail property owners and maintain (or increase) the value of their retail centers, hotels and multi-family developments. The inability to make these changes could de-value retail centers, hotels and apartment complexes.

Many current zoning codes and maps separate corner gas station retail from higher-end shopping center retail and hotels. That must be rethought."

Cities also need to think ahead to the end of corner gas stations and related highway services. However, certain uses, like car washes, will remain in their current location and zoning. Comprehensive plans need to consider new uses for the corner gas station and identify more desirable uses in their place. These may be restaurants, corner pocket parks with share trees, or other uses not offended by nearby traffic. Cities can even re-zone gas stations to different uses, permitting the gas station to continue as a pre-existing, non-conforming use until such time as it is no longer in operation.

As electric cars continue to drive us into the future, it will be imperative for retail establishments, offices and cities to meet the demands of drivers who, rather than stopping to top off their tanks, will stop to plug in their vehicles while they partake in the nearby amenities.

Robert A. Cooper is partner-in-charge in the Fort Myers, Florida office of Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP and focuses his practice on real estate law, construction law, condominium and homeowners association law, lien and foreclosure law, loan and financing transactions, commercial leasing, mergers and acquisitions and general corporate and business law. He is recognized in The Best Lawyers in America® for 2023 in Community Association Law.

Aaron S. Evenchik is a partner in the Cleveland, Ohio office of Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP who specializes in construction and real estate law. He has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America® since 2020 in Commercial Litigation.

Headline Image: Adobe Stock/giorgos245, Windawake

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