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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in California

The laws controlling how land can and cannot be used in Sacramento, California are fairly intricate, and can be confusing to laypersons. This should provide a basic overview.

Local governments will normally divide the city or town into sections, called "zones," each of which is designated for a specific use, such as residential homes, commercial businesses, agriculture, manufacturing, etc. This process is known as "zoning."

Zoning serves many different purposes - but it its major one is to increase or preserve property values by ensuring that conflicting uses don't result in legal disputes. Obviously, if you bought a house in a residential neighborhood, and your neighbor could just convert his property into a steel mill, your property's value as a residential lot would decrease substantially.

While zoning laws appear to be geared just toward protecting residents, they also protect industry, by ensuring that they are free to conduct their business without getting caught up in the numerous legal disputes that would be inevitable if they were closer to a residential area.

What if My Property Violates Sacramento, California's Zoning Laws?

Zoning laws are commonly quite extensive and meticulous, and it's extremely possible that your property in Sacramento, California contains some minor zoning violation that you don't know about. If this happens to you, you have considerable legal protections.

The most discernible solution is to correct the problem, so your property is no longer in violation of local zoning laws. If the violation is minor, and correcting it would not be extremely costly, this is likely the ideal way to go.

But what happens if you've invested a large amount of effort and money into improving your land, and you later discover that you've committed some relatively minor zoning violation? You are generally entitled to seek what is known as a "variance" in these cases. A variance is simply when your local government makes a small exception to the zoning rules to accommodate a small violation that would be difficult to fix. A variance will normally be granted if the violation doesn't harm anyone, and enforcing Sacramento, California's zoning laws to the letter would not, in this case, advance their purposes.

Additionally, zoning ordinances cannot be applied against you retroactively. For instance, 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 reside 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 Sacramento, California Attorney Help?

If you find yourself facing zoning or other land use issues, it's essential to have good legal advice. A seasoned Sacramento, California attorney will help you work within the law to ensure that you are as free as possible to make the use of your land that you want.

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Life in Sacramento

Sacramento is the capitol of the State of California, seat of Sacramento County, and still only ranks as the 6th largest city in the state. Cited as one of the most ethnically and racially integrated communities in the United States by Time Magazine, Sacramento plays host to a wide variety of public, private, and religious K-8 schools. California State University Sacramento, University of California Davis, and The Art Institute are just a few of the options residents have for higher education. In addition there are a number of other private, public, vocational, and community colleges in the area. The top employer in Sacramento remains the State of California. The California State Capitol Building was erected in 1874 and is reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol Building. "The Big Four" who included Mark Hopkins (of the Hotels), Charles Crocker (local Mansion/Art Museum and Rail tycoon), Leland Stanford (tycoon, industrialist, the university), and finally Collis P. Huntington (another Transcontinental Railroad tycoon) financed the construction of the Capitol Building out of pocket.

Sacramento has a number of outstanding museums and tourist amenities like the Crocker Art Museum, a local NBA team, a historic Old Town District, and the western terminus of the Pony Express which is Sutter's Fort. the Fort was erected in 1839 and is most famous for its association with the Donner Party and Sutter's Mill where gold was first found. Aside from the historical, Sacramento is host of the major courts in the area including the California State Supreme Court, Sacramento County and City Courts, and other Federal run courts. These buildings are largely located in Downtown Sacramento but serve the entire Central Valley.

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