Land Use and Zoning Law


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Zoning is the term used for designating permitted uses of certain parcels of land by local governments. The word is largely self-explanatory: the local government will designate various zones for different uses of land, such as industrial, agricultural, commercial, and residential. Zoning is also frequently used to designate the types of buildings that can be erected in a particular area, such as high density housing, highrises, maximum height restrictions, etc.

The primary philosophy behind zoning regulations is to separate different, incompatible property uses. For example, keeping large, smoke producing factories away from residential neighborhoods. However, in many instances, variances, or exceptions to the zoning rules, are possible. For example, a small residential variance might be granted to allow for a home in an industrial zone to house the night watchman. Usually, variances are granted because of some perceived hardship caused by the particular nature of the property in question or to satisfy a unique need that is not otherwise against the public interests.

Generally, in urban areas, zoning will be divided five major categories: residential, mixed residential-commercial, commercial, industrial, and special (e.g., power plants, sports complexes, airports, shopping malls etc.). Often, these categories will also have a number of sub-categories. For example, within the commercial category there may be separate zones for small-retail, large retail, office use, lodging and others, while industrial may be subdivided into heavy manufacturing, light assembly and warehouse uses.

Of course, zoning laws are not without their critics or misuse. Along with potential property right infringements, zoning has also been criticized as a means to promote social and economic segregation through exclusion. By improper use of various land-use restrictions, such as maximum density requirements, municipalities are able to artificially maintain high housing costs, increasing the tax base while effectively excluding lower income groups.

If you have questions about zoning, land-use, obtaining variances, or fighting government sponsored housing segregation, the resources below will help. As always, there is no substitute for the advice of a local, qualified attorney, and we also offer resources for finding some of the best qualified attorneys in your area.


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Articles on HG.org Related to Land Use and Zoning

  • The Situation with Clive Bundy in Nevada Shows the True Cost of Government Regulations
    To say that the situation in Nevada between federal officials and cattle rancher Clive Bundy has gotten out of hand would be an understatement.
  • Closing Problems & Pitfalls
    Occasionally unexpected issues arise that delay, or even stop, a real estate closing. There are also situations in which a Purchaser obtains title to property, and after closing learns that the property is subject to significant problems that would have been disclosed by the advice of an attorney or the review of a survey. Here are four recent examples:
  • How Arbitrary and Nasty the Power of Eminent Domain Can Be
    Seizure of the Barries' Colorado dream cabin shows how arbitrary and nasty the power of eminent domain can be.
  • The Unfortunate Rise of Civil Asset Forfeiture
    The rise of civil asset forfeiture as a means of increasing government revenues.
  • California Cities Canít Avoid Constitutional Liability for A Taking by Dissolving their Redevelopment Agencies
    For years local redevelopment agencies were the bane of private property rights in California. Until recently these agencies were clothed with the power to seize private homes through eminent domain and then give that property to private developers like Costco or Wal-Mart, all in the name of community development.
  • California Cities May Soon Snub the Constitution by Seizing Underwater Mortgages
    Eminent domain lawyers analyze California cities seizing underwater mortgages through eminent domain.
  • When is it Okay Not to Pay Rent
    Leases are tricky things. They are a combination of contract laws, agreements between the parties, and laws and regulations that relate to landlords and tenants, housing standards, zoning, safety, etc. As a result, although a lease agreement may say you have to pay rent always and under every circumstance, there are plenty of times when one of these other laws may intervene.
  • Understanding Building Codes
    Building codes establish standards for the construction of buildings and other structures. Virtually every structure in a modern building is subject to at least one, and usually several different building codes.
  • Do I Need a Real Estate Lawyer in Seattle to Build a New Home?
    It has become widely accepted that it is important to have a real estate lawyer Seattle when you are buying an existing home. After all, you will need a real estate lawyer Seattle to help you to negotiate a purchase and sales agreement with the seller and to make sure the agreement contains the appropriate protective clauses.
  • Zoning Restrictions in Commercial Developments
    With the constant development that occurs in real estate, zoning restrictions are placed on what can be built and how it can be used in a certain area. Commercial developments are a wide reaching issue in a world that is always looking to expand. Real estate in California is sought after by many looking to gain a spot of their own along the golden coast.
  • All Real Estate Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Real Estate including: construction law, eminent domain, foreclosure, homeowners association, land use and zoning, landlord and tenant law, property law, property management.

Land Use and Zoning - US

  • Land Use Law - Overview

    Today, federal, state, and local governments regulate growth and development through statutory law. The majority of controls on land, however, stem from actions of private developers and individuals. Three typical situations involving such private entities and the court system are: suits brought by one neighbor against another; suits brought by a public official against a neighboring landowner on behalf of the public; and suits involving individuals who share ownership of a particular parcel of land. In these settings judicial determination and enforcement of private land-use arrangements can not only reinforce public regulation but achieve forms and levels of control zoning cannot.

  • Land Use, Planning, and Zoning Law Resource Guide - Cleveland-Marshall College of Law

    Besides zoning and planning materials, you may want to look at materials dealing with property law in general, environmental law, fair housing, municipal and local government law.

  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

    The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions.

  • The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, As Amended

    The goal of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), which established the ACHP in 1966, is to have federal agencies act as responsible stewards of our nation's resources when their actions affect historic properties. The ACHP is the only entity with the legal responsibility to encourage federal agencies to factor historic preservation into federal project requirements.

  • Zoning Law - Wikipedia

    Zoning is a device of land use regulation used by local governments in most developed countries [1][2][3]. The word is derived from the practice of designating permitted uses of land based on mapped zones which separate one set of land uses from another. Zoning may be use-based (regulating the uses to which land may be put), or it may regulate building height, lot coverage, and similar characteristics, or some combination of these.

Organizations Related to Land Use and Zoning

  • American Planning Association

    APA is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities. We measure our success by the successes of our members and the communities they serve.

  • US Department of Housing and Urban Development

    HUD's mission is to increase homeownership, support community development and increase access to affordable housing free from discrimination. To fulfill this mission, HUD will embrace high standards of ethics, management and accountability and forge new partnerships--particularly with faith-based and community organizations--that leverage resources and improve HUD's ability to be effective on the community level.

  • US Department of the Interior - Bureau of Land Management

    The BLM is responsible for carrying out a variety of programs for the management and conservation, of resources on 253 million surface acres, as well as 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate, These public lands make up about 13 percent of the total land surface of the United States and more than 40 percent of all land managed by the Federal government.

Publications Related to Land Use and Zoning

  • APA - Growing Smart

    States and their local governments now have new practical tools available to help combat urban sprawl, protect farmland, promote affordable housing, and encourage redevelopment. They appear in the American Planning Association's Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook: Model Statutes for Planning and the Management of Change, 2002 Edition (Stuart Meck, FAICP, Gen. Editor). The Guidebook and its accompanying User Manual are the culmination of APA's seven-year Growing Smart project, an effort to draft the next generation of model planning and zoning legislation for the U.S.

  • Law of the Land - Land Use and Zoning - Albany Law School

    This blog, maintained by Albany Law School Associate Dean and Professor Patricia Salkin, is designed to provide a forum for the discussion of current laws, policies and decisions that affect the use of land. It highlights new court decisions, new state and federal laws and policies, and actions at the local government level that guide and/or impact land use and community development.


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