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Zoning Changes, Variances, and More

Applying for a Change of Zoning

If the zoning on a parcel of land is inconsistent with the use the land owner desires, the owner may apply to the local jurisdiction for a change of zoning. Each jurisdiction has its own rules and regulations. However, there is typically an application and a fee, followed by some type of hearing at which the owner presents the request and the reasons for the requested change. Surveys, drawings, photographs, and even models can be used to convey the proposed plan. Many owners hire engineers or lawyers to assist with the re-zoning process.

If the owner is unsuccessful in obtaining the change, there may be a possibility to appeal the action, either within the administrative structure of the governmental body or in a court of law.


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.

Typically, variances are granted when the property owner can demonstrate that existing zoning regulations present a practical difficulty in making use of the property. Each municipality has rules for variance requests. Usually, the land owner seeking the variance files a request or written application for a variance and pays a fee. Normally, the requests go first to a zoning board. The zoning board notifies nearby and adjacent property owners. The zoning examiner may then hold a hearing to determine if the variance should be granted. The applicant may then be required to appear before the governing body of the municipality (such as a city council) for the final determination.

Non-Conforming Uses

A nonconforming use is a permitted use of property which would otherwise be in violation of the current zoning ordinance. The use is permitted because the land owner was using the land or building for that use before the zoning ordinance became effective. Nonconforming uses are often referred to as being "grandfathered in" to a zoning code. In order to qualify for nonconforming use, the property almost always needs to have been continuously put to the non-conforming use. Thus, if the businesses closes and the use lapses for any time, the permission for the nonconforming use could vanish.

Conditional Use Permits

Similar to variances, conditional use permits allow an otherwise non-permitted use of the property that the zoning code does not include. Conditional use permits are usually granted at a public hearing before a political body, usually with the conclusion that the new use of the property will be in the public interest.

Eminent Domain

Eminent domain is the power of government to take private property and use it for public use. Public use includes the traditional government activities of building roads, government and public facilities such as government buildings and parks, as well as more generally beneficial activities assured through protection of scenic areas, wetlands, and historic landmarks. If the government zones a piece of property such that the property owner can no longer effectively use the parcel of land, eminent domain may be applicable, and the property owner may be able to sue for compensation because the land has been "taken" by the government. Learn more about Eminent Domain.

Have Questions About Zoning Changes and Variances? Get Legal Help

Zoning changes and variances could open up a whole new world of possibilities for using your property, or they could have a disastrous impact. Before tackling these issues yourself it would be wise to consult with a professional. Contact a local land use and zoning attorney to discuss possible changes in zoning and learn more about your options and the consequences of different zoning changes.

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Contact a qualified real estate to help you navigate land use issues including zoning, easements and eminent domain.

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