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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in California

The laws controlling how land can and cannot be used in Fresno, California 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.

Local governments have various different reasons for enacting zoning laws, ranging from ensuring that residential areas are peaceful and quiet, to safeguarding property values. For instance, 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.

While zoning laws appear to be geared just toward protecting residents, they also protect industry, by ensuring that they are free to conduct their business without getting caught up in the various legal disputes that would be inevitable if they were closer to a residential area.

What if My Property Violates Fresno, California's Zoning Laws?

If a condition on your property breaks the local zoning laws of Fresno, California, there are a few different solutions.

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

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 Fresno, California'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 Fresno, California Attorney Help?

If you suddenly become involved in a zoning dispute with your local government, it's imperative to seek competent legal representation. The counsel of an efficient Fresno, California real estate attorney can make it much easier for you to act within the law to use your own property as you wish, or at least be as free as possible to make improvements to your land.

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Life in Fresno

Fresno is the seat of Fresno County, California and home to over 500,000 residents. As the largest city in the San Joaquin Valley, the Fresno Metropolitan area plays host to 1.2 million. Fresno is Spanish for ash tree. The ash tree's leaf is even featured on the City of Fresno flag. Many locals are work on large scale agricultural farms that produce many fruits and nuts distributed throughout the world. Community Medical Centers, the City of Fresno, Kaiser Permanente, and the Saint Agnes Medical Center are other major employers. Another major employer and attraction to Fresno is California State University, Fresno.


Fresno is host to a number of important Courts. The United States Courthouse for the Eastern District of California is located downtown and handles a number of Federal cases like Immigration issues. The Fresno County Court is responsible for many of the cases that arise in Fresno including Criminal cases like assault and DUI as well as Civil cases like personal injury. The Fifth Appellate District of the State of California Court of Appeals handles any criminal appeals. The San Joaquin College of Law is one of the local law schools serving potential Fresno lawyers.

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