Land use, zoning, and development are complex areas of the law. Property owners, real estate developers, and business owners often have to deal with legal issues surrounding zoning and land use. Whether you are involved in a new construction project or you are a business owner who needs legal guidance about how the zoning process works in your municipality, having a basic understanding of zoning and land use in Pennsylvania is vital. Specifics and processes vary by area, so hiring an experienced real estate attorney who is well-versed in local zoning and land use regulations can save you a lot of time, money, and headaches.
What Is Zoning?
The most common type of land use regulation is zoning. Municipalities use zoning regulations and restrictions to control the development of property. In cities and suburbs, zoning is usually based on a comprehensive plan that divides a municipality into residential, commercial and industrial districts. Zoning typically outlines specific requirements such as the size and height of buildings, location of utility lines, how property or land is allowed to be used, and many other specifications.
For example, in areas that are zoned as residential, there may be additional constraints such as whether you’re allowed to build single-family homes, townhouses, or multi-family dwellings. Property or areas with historical or cultural significance may also require that certain buildings or features be preserved. Requesting or changing the zoning of a property or building typically requires going through local planning commissions and zoning hearing boards.
Land Use Regulation is Necessary But Can be Restrictive
Local, regional, and statewide planning can improve communities, preserve the environment and provide comprehensive, uniform regulations that make things simpler. However, zoning and land use regulations also restrict the rights of owners to use their property as they wish, which makes the subject a controversial one. Generally, courts have determined that zoning regulations must be reasonable and not arbitrary, and must present a reasonable and significant relation to the public health, safety, and general welfare. However, the subjective nature of these factors gives rise to disagreements that may lead to litigation. Government agencies are not the only ones who may impose restrictions on properties – developers often incorporate easements and provisions that may limit the use of a property for aesthetic reasons.
Zoning Boards and Appeals
When conflict over zoning and land use arises, many jurisdictions use zoning boards to handle these issues. Zoning boards can conduct hearings that include the presentation of evidence and sworn testimony by witnesses. Contesting a zoning or land use requirement can be difficult to do on your own. If you are dealing with zoning issues in Chester County, having a West Chester real estate attorney assist you with your case can give you a significant advantage. A local lawyer will be familiar with complex zoning law, and may be well-acquainted with members of the board, municipal attorneys, and planning officials. All of these factors can give you a leg up and help you achieve a beneficial outcome. An experienced attorney can also help you appeal zoning board decisions when appropriate.
Do you need assistance with a zoning issue or real estate transaction? Our construction contract lawyers at Carosella & Associates can help you understand your rights and protect your interests.