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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in Florida
The laws governing how land can and cannot be used in Duval County, Florida are fairly complex, and can be confusing to laypersons. This should provide a basic overview.
Local governments will usually divide the city or town into sections, called "zones," each of which is designated for a particular use, such as residential homes, commercial businesses, agriculture, manufacturing, etc. This process is known as "zoning."
Local governments have many different reasons for enacting zoning laws, ranging from ensuring that residential areas are peaceful and quiet, to protecting property values. For example, most people wouldn't buy a home in a neighborhood where they knew it was possible for a neighbor to turn their house into a factory.
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 many legal disputes that would be inevitable if they were closer to a residential area.
What if My Property Violates Duval County, Florida's Zoning Laws?
If something on your property is in violation of a Duval County, Florida zoning law, the landowner has several options.
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 very costly, this is likely the best way to go.
What if, however, you've invested a significant 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 essentially 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 Duval County, Florida's zoning laws, a variance will usually be granted.
Furthermore, 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 Duval County, Florida Attorney Help?
If you want to make improvements to your property, apply for a variance, or contest a zoning regulation as being applied to you retroactively, you have a right to do so, including some constitutional protections. However, your chances of prevailing in a zoning dispute will be markedly improved if you hire an experienced Duval County, Florida real estate attorney to help.