Cities are granted broad authority to use the zoning regulations to dictate the types of uses in the different districts within the city. For example there can be residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural and plan development (mixed) uses. In addition, there are gradations of uses even with each category, such as light, medium, and heavy uses.
Even within each division of zoning use, there are unique issues. For example, if you are in an agricultural area, you may be entitled to obtain significant property tax reductions by continuing to use the property for an agricultural use for a certain period of time.
Zoning laws are powerful and can control the way you use your property. For example, if a new zoning designation changes the types of use allowed in that district, your property may be in violation of the new ordinance if it is inconsistent with the new designation.
In such a case, the property owner can try to get what is called a "non-conforming use permit," which allows the use to continue for some period of time because it existed lawfully before the new restrictions have taken effect. However, the city will often impose additional restrictions and will eventually phase out all non-conforming use in the area. In such a case, an attorney will be needed to defend and protect your rights in court.
In some cases, an owner can obtain a "variance" from the zoning restrictions. A variance is a license or official authorization to depart from a zoning law. In other words, the city permits you to deviate from the current zoning law. Variances require special circumstances an skill to obtain.
In other cases, an owner may be able to obtain a "special-use permit," which is a zoning board's authorization to use property in a way that is identified as a special exception in a zoning ordinance. Unlike a variance, which is an authorized deviation from a zoning ordinance, a special-use permit is a permitted exception.
The city's broad power to create and regulate zoning laws has its limits, however. In some cases, the city will target a single property and zone that property for use which severely restricts that single property's use and economic returns. In general, this is usually illegal and is known as "spot-zoning."
If you have a zoning issue and need an experienced attorney, contact us today and we would be glad to assist you.