Find a Land Use & Zoning Lawyer

Land use and zoning laws govern the physical development of land, controlling the various uses to which each property in your community may be put. Land use and zoning lawyers are there to assist you when the technical requirements of these regulations become an unexpected intrusion in your daily life.

Understanding the Law

Zoning laws dictate the areas of your community in which all residential, industrial, recreational, agricultural, and commercial activities may take place, breaking each of these general categories down into more narrowly specified divisions. A residential zone might be separated into different zones for single-family homes, hotels, mobile homes, low-rise apartment complexes, and high-rise apartment complexes while a commercial zone is split into small stores, shopping centers, gas stations, and restaurants.

In addition to regulating land usage, zoning laws also govern the dimensional requirements for lots and buildings in your area as well as the density of land development. They regulate the extraction of natural resources; provide space for hospitals, parks, and schools; protect places of historical importance; and even dictate whether you can own pigeons, dogs, sheep or llamas.

It is also important to remember that zoning classifications are not permanent. The vacant lot across the street from your residential zone may very well be turned into a private club for college kids one day. And just as the scenery changes, so do the laws. In the case of zoning ordinances, exceptions are common.

How a Lawyer Can Help You

Many people find themselves in need of a lawyer when they realize they're unable to use their property as intended without violating a zoning ordinance. For instance, the use of the existing property may be considered inconsistent with a new ordinance. This is referred to as a “non-conforming” use because it doesn't conform to the conditions of the ordinance.

A use may be non-conforming because either the characteristics of the building itself don't adhere to ordinance regulations or because the activity going on inside the building doesn't conform. An example of a non-conforming use would be a fast-food restaurant operating in an area that is later zoned to exclude all food-related operations. A lawyer will often see to it that this restaurant is able to stay in business.

A lawyer can also help you file for conditional use, which is a use that is permitted under a zoning ordinance, providing that it meets certain conditions. For example, professional offices may be permitted in a residential zone under the condition that a specified number of off-street parking places are provided.

A lawyer may also be useful in helping you obtain a variance. A variance is a special exception to the requirements of a zoning ordinance. These exceptions can usually only be justified by the illustration of some kind of hardship such as an undersized lot for which a variance is necessary in order to build a useful structure.

By Lindsay Rech           

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