Zoning laws or ordinances restrict the types of uses to which a particular piece of property may be put. While the nature of zoning restrictions vary by city, the most common type of zoning law designates property as business, residential or a combination thereof. Some cities have very strict, wide-ranging zoning laws; for example, zoning laws may also regulate fence height, prevent homeowners from keeping certain pets or parking certain types of vehicles on the street.
A property owner who wishes to use his or her property in a manner inconsistent with the zoning laws may be able to obtain a “variance.” The decision as to whether to grant a variance is typically left to the sole discretion of the local zoning authority — some of which may grant such variances liberally, while others are more restrictive. A variance that does not change the essential character of an area will typically be granted. For example, if a variance to allow a small retail store to operate in an area zoned for residential use is requested, the zoning authority will likely approve the variance if a parcel on the same street is already being used for commercial purposes, any impact on traffic flow in the neighborhood would be minimal and nearby property owners do not object to the variance request.
In some extreme cases, the courts have held that zoning laws are so restrictive as to amount to a “taking” of the owner’s property, allowing the owner to make a claim for compensation form the governmental authority that made the zoning law.
Zoning is a complicated area of the law, subject to numerous technical rules and special practices. Non-compliance with these rules may result in delay, or even the dismissal, of a variance application, often at a substantial loss of time and money. Before you apply for a variance, contact Sanders & Parks in Phoenix, AZ, to schedule a consultation with an attorney who is experienced in zoning and land use matters.