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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in Florida

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

Localities typically divide their jurisdictions into segments, referred to as "zones," on which particular types of use are permitted. For example, one area of a town might be zoned for residential use, a nearby one for commercial use, and areas on the outskirts zoned for industrial use. This practice is called "zoning."

Zoning serves several different purposes - but it its basic 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 simply convert his property into a steel mill, your property's value as a residential lot would decrease significantly.

Zoning laws generally acknowledge the necessities of things like factories, sewage treatment plants, and stockyards, but recognize that such activities shouldn't be conducted in residential areas.

What if My Property Violates Key West, Florida's Zoning Laws?

Suppose you find that some condition on your land is in violation of Key West, Florida's zoning laws. In cases like this, you have quite a few options.

It should be clear, however, that the ideal solution is to simply fix any condition on your property which is in violation of a local zoning law. If the violation is not serious, and correcting it won't significantly interfere with your use of your property, this is probably the best course of action.

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 usually be granted if the violation doesn't harm anyone, and enforcing Key West, Florida's zoning laws to the letter would not, in this case, advance their purposes.

You also have significant protections if a zoning law changes, and you find that the land you've been living on for years is suddenly in violation of the new law. In general, zoning laws cannot apply to structures and uses which were built or commenced before the law was changed. Under the U.S. Constitution, it's not permissible for state or local governments to pass laws which have retroactive effect. You should know, however, that any future changes you make to your property will have to comply with the new zoning law.

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How Can a Key West, Florida Attorney Help?

If you find yourself facing zoning or other land use issues, it's crucial to have good legal advice. A good Key West, Florida 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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