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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in Arkansas

The laws controlling how land can and cannot be used in Washington County, Arkansas are fairly complicated, 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 typical 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 constructed next to daycare centers, pig farms should not be constructed 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 don't exist just to protect residential use - it also protects persons who engage in other types of use of land, by making sure that they are able to do their business, without bothering neighboring landowners, and thereby preventing legal disputes.

What if My Property Violates Washington County, Arkansas's Zoning Laws?

If something on your property is in violation of a Washington County, Arkansas zoning law, the landowner has various avenues.

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

However, it isn't always practical or affordable to correct a minor violation of a zoning law. For instance, 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 Washington County, Arkansas'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 certain provision of a zoning law to a single violation. These aren't always granted, but usually 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.

You also have substantial 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 Washington County, Arkansas Attorney Help?

If you find yourself facing zoning or other land use issues, it's essential to have good legal advice. A reliable Washington County, Arkansas 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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