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Zoning laws, while obviously designed with important purposes in mind, are not as consistent as one might expect. Although some suburban or even urban communities, usually those with very expensive homes, may be clearly separated from anything remotely connected to business or industry, others, usually those with low-income homes, are often dotted with various non-residential entities, such as auto repair shops, grocery stores, bars and factories.

The underlying purpose of zoning is to separate different types of real estate that are thought to be incompatible in order to  preserve their appearance and value and to encourage what seems to be the most appropriate use of the land in question. If you are involved in a zoning dispute, it is essential to have a real estate attorney with clout and a strong skill set at your side.

As you may already be aware, in many instances zoning regulations are used not just to preserve the character of a community but to illegally discriminate against particular individuals, types of businesses or facilities. In spite of many court rulings against zoning laws being enforced to keep out those of a particular race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identification, many realtors, community groups, large corporations or local officials may try to leverage their power to tip the scales against fairness and civil rights.

Types of Zoning and the Reasons Behind Them

There are a number of types of zoning included in the list below, although the chances are that the immediate area in which you live contains only a few of these:

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Industrial
  • Agricultural
  • Rural
  • Combination
  • Historic
  • Aesthetic
  • Recreational

The underlying reason for zoning is to protect the public from harm. “Harm,” may be defined in terms of decreasing the financial value of property, polluting the environment, making the area less desirable to inhabit and/or to raise children in, or to promote business growth. Protecting the public from harm also means protecting the public from general nuisance — visual and noise impact, smoke or other pollution, vibrations, strong odors, light disturbances (i.e. blockage of sunlight or intrusion of artificial light), structural hazards or criminal activity.

Some Common Zoning Disputes

Zoning disputes are legal matters. They may involve private homeowners arguing over the precise location of the line between their properties. On the other hand, they may involve commercial property owners taking on a powerful city government in an attempt  to have property rezoned. In the latter case, the business entity may want to expand its operation in spite of the objections of the adjacent community.

Zoning disputes can involve complex, long-term and expensive negotiations or litigations. This is another persuasive reason to engage the services of competent real estate attorney with a successful track record to take your case. A savvy real estate attorney with in-depth understanding of zoning laws will be able to assist you in cases like these:

  1. You run a commercial business (quiet offices) adjacent to a residential area and want to add an addition to your building. You’ve purchased the empty lot next door that is zoned as residential and you want to have it rezoned. The neighborhood association is fighting your attempt, stating that your company will overpopulate their small town, resulting in fewer parking spaces, a scarcity of restaurant seats, longer lines everywhere and an increased number of strangers near their homes and schools.
  2. You have purchased your home primarily for its lovely view and sunny backyard. The property behind you on which a small deli has existed for many years has been purchased by a large insurance company that now wants to add three stories to the building which will cut off your family’s view and sunlight. You want to fight the plan which will interfere with your privacy and your quality of life.
  3. Because the county government is planning to construct a public park, it wants to purchase your private property, as well as the property of three of your neighbors, under the Fifth Amendment’s eminent domain clause. You, your immediate neighbors, and your civic association are arguing that there are other more suitable places for such a park and that the park will bring strangers into your neighborhood who will bring noise pollution, litter, and possible nighttime criminal behavior to your now quiet street.

While zoning law cases can be difficult to negotiate or litigate, when you have an experienced real estate attorney fighting for your cause, your chances of winning increase substantially. Those who have comprehensive knowledge of zoning laws can leverage such knowledge against opponents and put you back in a position of control.

Zoning laws are frequently changed (or maintained) to protect private homeowners, infants in childcare facilities, and school children from the dangers of alcohol, drugs, prostitution or pornography, or environmental hazards. Conversely, zoning laws may also be upheld or altered to protect businesses and commercial enterprises from being deprived of potential growth and expansion. An capable zoning attorney can manage to do either effectively.