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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in Alabama

The laws governing how land can and cannot be used in Montgomery, Alabama are fairly difficult, 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. Normally, 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 a lot of rationales and purposes for zoning laws. In general, they're based in common sense: chemical plants shouldn't be created next to daycare centers, pig farms should not be created in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and other simple principles similar to that. Zoning laws, by keeping conflicting land uses separate, make life easier for all parties, ensuring that property values will be preserved, and that necessary industries can be conducted where they will not bother anyone.

Zoning laws typically 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 Montgomery, Alabama's Zoning Laws?

If something on your property is in violation of a Montgomery, Alabama zoning law, the landowner has many 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.

However, it isn't always practical or affordable to correct a minor violation of a zoning law. For example, suppose you have just spent a large amount of money and effort remodeling a house to turn it into your dream home. You thought you were in total compliance with local zoning laws when you did this, but find out that there is some small, technical violation of Montgomery, Alabama's zoning laws. In these cases, you have recourse in the form of a variance. You are entitled to petition the local zoning board to grant you a variance, which is an official decision not to apply a particular provision of a zoning law to a single violation. These aren't always granted, but typically have to be granted if the violation doesn't interfere with anyone else's use of their property, and doesn't thwart the purposes of local zoning laws.

Additionally, 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 Montgomery, Alabama 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 disagreement will be markedly improved if you hire an accomplished Montgomery, Alabama real estate attorney to help.

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