Phillips & Angley

When land use and zoning laws conflict

Local governments rely on the practice of zoning when they plan their urban areas. Without zoning laws, a town might be a mishmash of commercial, industrial and residential areas, causing traffic congestion, inconvenience and possible health hazards. However, zoning is far from an exact science, and sometimes landowners have a good reason to seek to free their property from a zoning law.

This situation often comes up where a nonconforming use predated a zoning law. For example, a commercial building might have existed in the same spot for 70 years when a new law zones the area only for residential use. In this case, the local zoning board may deem the commercial building to be a lawful nonconforming use. However, even in this case, the zoning board would investigate what kind of effect the commercial building has on area residents.

In other situations, the property owner may request relief by seeking a zoning variance. Typically, the landowner must provide evidence that converting the land to conform with the zoning law would create undue hardship. For example, an owner might show that she has already invested heavily in a commercial building, and it would be expensive and impractical to convert the building to a residence in order to comply with a new zoning law.

Landowners need skilled legal help when they are trying to deal with land use and zoning issues. A lawyer with experience in this area of real estate law can help clients to gather evidence and make their case, arguing on their behalf at hearings and in litigation.

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