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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in California

The laws governing how land can and cannot be used in Butte County, California 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.

Local governments have several 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.

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 Butte County, California's Zoning Laws?

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

First of all, and most simply, the owner could just fix the violation. If the violation isn't very considerable, and fixing it wouldn't cost very much, this is probably the best and easiest option.

Of course, simply fixing a zoning violation isn't always modest or easy, and may interfere with your planned use of your property. For example, you might have just undertaken a considerable remodeling of your home, and later found out that some small part of it technically doesn't conform to Butte County, California's zoning laws. If this happens to you, you can apply to your local zoning board for what's known as a "variance." This is simply a decree by the zoning board that the particular rule your property violates no longer applies. The Supreme Court has held that local zoning boards have to grant variances when the violation is extremely minor, and enforcing the ordinance would be unduly burdensome and not in the public interest.

Furthermore, if the zoning laws covering your property have changed, and some aspect of it is now violating the new rules, these changes can typically not be enforced against you, because it would be unfair to apply a new law retroactively.

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How Can a Butte County, California 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 Butte County, California real estate attorney to help.

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