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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in Arizona

The laws governing how land can and cannot be used in Sierra Vista, Arizona are fairly confusing, 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 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 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 also serves the interests of industry, as well as residents. By ensuring that there are places where heavy industry can take place, well-planned zoning regulations will ensure that industrialists are free to practice their trade, and that residents will not be disturbed by those activities, which makes industry more efficient by helping it avoid costly nuisance lawsuits.

What if My Property Violates Sierra Vista, Arizona's Zoning Laws?

You have quite a few options if you find that a planned or current use of your property violates Sierra Vista, Arizona's zoning regulations.

First, and perhaps most apparently, you can correct the violation. If the violation is relatively minor, and correcting it would not cost you much or be a substantial burden, this might be the best 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 typically be granted if the violation doesn't harm anyone, and enforcing Sierra Vista, Arizona's zoning laws to the letter would not, in this case, advance their purposes.

Moreover, 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 Sierra Vista, Arizona Attorney Help?

If you find yourself facing zoning or other land use issues, it's important to have good legal advice. A knowledgeable Sierra Vista, Arizona 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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