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  • Writer's pictureMinerva & D'Agostino

What Exactly Is The Land Use and Zoning Law?

When you think of an attorney, what comes to mind? For many people, the first thing that comes to mind is criminal, matrimonial, personal, injury - not land use. The land use and zoning law involves the regulation of the use and development of real estate. Land use and zoning laws regulate the development and construction of real estate. This law affects the manner in which our neighborhood and environment is developed or redeveloped. The most common form of land-use regulation is zoning. Zoning regulations and restrictions are used by municipalities to control and direct the development of property within their borders. In other words, these regulations provide a necessary function in American communities, keeping heavy industry away from apartment buildings and organizing localities in a rational way. This allows our government to decide what is permitted to be constructed and where.

What are zoning regulations & who do they affect? Zoning regulations specify whether a specific zone can be used for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes. These regulations may also specify the lot size, placement, and height of the structure. There are different zoning regulations for every neighborhood, town, county, and state. One must research the specific zoning regulations within your area. When you are doing work on a home, many homeowners are often not aware that these regulations exist and do not know what these regulations fully entail. Zoning regulations not only affect developers constructing commercial buildings and multi-family developments but it also affects single family homeowners.

How are zoning decisions made? Zoning decisions are made by the local municipality when you are seeking a building permit. One may request a building permit variance when building a structure. A variance is a request to deviate from current zoning requirements. If granted, it permits the owner to use the land in a manner not otherwise permitted by the zoning ordinance. It is not a change in the zoning law- instead, it is a specific waiver of requirements of the zoning ordinance. Normally, the requests are presented to a zoning board. The zoning board notifies nearby and adjacent property owners. The zoning board may then hold a public hearing to determine if the variance should be granted. Public hearings can be held with an attorney if the homeowner chooses to seek one. At this hearing, the homeowner or attorney will have to explain that the change will not be detrimental to the surrounding area or property values. Following the hearing,voice objections by neighbors may take place. The board will have to weigh the testimony and statutory factors to render the decision. It should be noted that if you are seeking to build larger than permitted you will then seek an “area variance.” The difference between a use variance and an area variance involves the use of the property. An area variance results in a modification of physical restrictions so that an allowable use may be established on the property. By contrast, a use variance permits the establishment of a use which is not permitted by the zoning ordinance.

Why do you need an attorney? As an attorney, it is very important to assist developers and homeowners with their use variance or area variance as the process is very complicated. As a homeowner, business owner, or contractor- it may difficult to understand the regulations and procedures that arise when applying for a variance which may make the process overwhelming and intimidating. Hiring a local attorney familiar with the zoning ordinance who is able to assist in the zoning process can mean the difference between a variance request that is approved and one that is denied. Here at Minerva & D’Agostino, P.C we can walk you through the variance procedures, knowing when to bring in additional experts such as appraisers or traffic consultants to provide the data necessary to present a successful application.

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