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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in Alabama

The laws governing how land can and cannot be used in Helena, Alabama are fairly confusing, and can be confusing to laypersons. This should provide a basic overview.

"Zoning" is the process by which a local government makes laws determining how individual pieces of land within its jurisdiction can be used. Typically, towns or cities are segmented off into "zones," each one being designated for a specific type of use. Examples of common zoning categories are single family residence, commercial, multi-unit housing, or industrial.

There are many different reasons that cities might engage in zoning - but it is typically designed around making cities more livable, by preventing conflicting uses from clashing with one another. After all, few people would want to live in a house next to a vacant lot, if there is a chance that somebody could decide to build a pig farm next door. The security provided by zoning laws helps preserve property values

Zoning also serves the interests of industry, as well as residents. By ensuring that there are places where heavy industry can take place, well-planned zoning regulations will ensure that industrialists are free to practice their trade, and that residents will not be disturbed by those activities, which makes industry more efficient by helping it avoid costly nuisance lawsuits.

What if My Property Violates Helena, Alabama's Zoning Laws?

If something on your property is in violation of a Helena, Alabama zoning law, the landowner has various options.

It should be discernible that the first option you should consider is to correct the violation. If doing this wouldn't cost you very much, or pose a huge inconvenience, you should obviously do this.

What if, however, you've invested a substantial amount of time and money into making an improvement on your property, only to find that it violates your local zoning laws in some minor way? In this case, you can apply for a variance. This is typically an exception to the zoning rules. If declining to enforce these rules would not harm anyone, and would not do much to advance the purpose of Helena, Alabama's zoning laws, a variance will typically be granted.

Moreover, zoning ordinances cannot be applied against you retroactively. For example, suppose you built a 3-story house on your property, and your property was zoned to allow 3-story houses to be built at the time of construction. And then, years later, the area you live in is re-zoned, to only allow 2-story houses. Can the local government force you to remove a whole level of your house? Of course not. Applying a law retroactively is unconstitutional. On the other hand, any future changes you want to make to your property will have to comply with the applicable zoning ordinance as it is currently written.

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How Can a Helena, Alabama Attorney Help?

If you suddenly become involved in a zoning dispute with your local government, it's imperative to seek competent legal representation. The counsel of an efficient Helena, Alabama real estate attorney can make it much easier for you to act within the law to use your own property as you wish, or at least be as free as possible to make improvements to your land.

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