Whether you want to construct a new building or make changes to an existing one, there’s a good chance your project will mean a journey into the world of land development and zoning.
What are zoning laws?
Zoning laws are municipal regulations that dictate how property owners can use their property, governing the use of land for residential, commercial, industrial and other purposes. Zoning divides communities into different sections – or zones – where these uses are permitted.
For example, land that’s zoned R-1 might allow only certain types of residential units, while something zoned C-1 could permit a mix of commercial uses and housing.
The four main zoning classifications are residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural, although they can be combined, so that you’ll have an area that’s “industrial/commercial.”
You can tell what’s what by looking at a zoning map: “A” for agricultural, “R” for residential and so on.
And within the zones are more narrow divisions. You can have residential zones that are cut up for apartments, single family homes, or mobile homes, for example. A commercial zone can have areas for smaller stores, warehouses, gas stations and restaurants. And industrial zones can be light or heavy industrial.
Where did zoning laws come from?
Like a lot of laws, zoning regulations developed overtime, in cities throughout the U.S. during the 19th and early 20th centuries as unregulated building often proved to be harmful to the health and safety of the community.
Zoning in America was modeled on practices used in Germany, which is how New York City got its first zoning regulation in 1916. The landmark Supreme Court case – Ambler Realty vs. The Village of Euclid in 1926 – found that zoning was a constitutional exercise of police power, a decision that set the stage for zoning law for the rest of the century.
What else do zoning laws do?
In addition to determining proper land use, zoning laws can govern things like the height of a building, lot dimensions and whether residents can keep certain animals on their property. Zoning provides space for things like parks and schools, while also protecting open space and historical sites.
Who oversees zoning?
Zoning laws are controlled by local or county government and can differ from place to place. You might find, for example, that one community allows a mix of residential and commercial uses, while its neighboring town does not.
Are zoning laws permanent?
Zoning classifications are subject to change, which is good news if you’re a developer but often bad news for residents who don’t want to see the vacant land near their home turned into a used car lot.
Should I try to tackle my zoning case alone?
If you’re reading this, we’d guess you have some interest in you community’s zoning and may even be preparing to go before your local zoning board.
If that’s the case, we’d advise you not to go it alone. An experienced land use attorney like the ones found at Benner & Wild can help you through what is often a long and complicated process.
We’ve spent decades representing businesses that want to expand as well as homeowners who want to improve on their properties, fighting all the way to local and state courts.
We look forward working with you, your family or your business to ensure your rights are protected. Contact us today to learn more.