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What is a Land Use Law, and When Do I Need a Land Use Attorney?

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Suppose you are about to purchase property or are considering building on a piece of land. In that case, it is crucial that you comply with all applicable zoning or land development policies set forth by the local government. An attorney with specific knowledge of this area of law can make it infinitely easier for you to evaluate your options and determine your best course of action based on local regulations and ordinances, but not just any attorney; you want a Land Use attorney.

What is Land Use Law?

Land use and zoning regulations allow local, state, and national authorities to regulate how individuals, businesses, and organizations can use their property. Think of it as the tension between the landowners’ private property rights and the government’s ability to regulate what the landowner can do through police power. However, local government does not have the unfettered right to regulate the use and development of property–it must be done in a way that benefits the public. Two primary ways that land use laws regulate are:

  1. Creating comprehensive plans for the future development of a city or municipality
  2. Dividing a city or municipality into zones for different purposes

Through the property appraiser’s website, you may have noticed that your property has a future land use designation (commonly referred to as FLU) and a zoning designation. The two are not the same. I like to think of it like an accordion – Your expanded accordion is the future land use, which is determined by the comprehensive plan a local government creates (#1 above). It encompasses the maximum density and intensity for an area measured by dwelling units per acre for residential and floor area ratio for commercial.  Zoning is the compressed accordion because it restricts how you can use your property and refers to specific regulations that govern land use within a future land use area (#2 above). For example, an area that has a future land use of moderate density residential will have zoning that further   specifies if that residential use can be single-family, multifamily, or a mix. If the future land use is industrial, zoning may further specify the types of industrial, i.e., manufacturing, machinery, and factories. Zoning also restricts building height, lot size, and other aspects of development.

What is a Land Use Attorney?

A land use attorney can assist clients in changing zoning maps or the zoning code, procuring permits, and gathering and reviewing all the information needed to purchase raw land or a redevelopment project. For example, suppose you own a piece of commercial property and want to change an existing structure, add a new one, or change how the property is used. In that case, you must get approval from local government boards before you take action. Similarly, you must be mindful of municipal ordinances that govern your ability to govern how you use your property. A land use attorney deals with these and many other types of land use issues related to real estate development, including:

  • Dealing with municipalities, planning commissions, and city councils
  • Dealing with communities and public hearings
  • Easements and boundary line issues
  • State or local permitting issues
  • Zoning matters
  • Environmental issues
  • Getting approvals for projects

When you hire a knowledgeable land use attorney at Berlin Patten Ebling, PLLC, you can rest assured that she/he will verify any land use and zoning restrictions that may be standing in the way of your ability to proceed with your purchase, use, or development of your property. If you have any questions, contact your trusted land use attorney.

Melissa Strassner Esq.

Melissa Strassner Esq.

Melissa focuses her practice on land use, zoning, environmental, and development law.

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