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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in California

The laws governing how land can and cannot be used in Goleta, California are fairly complex, 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. Usually, 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 many 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.

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 many legal disputes that would be inevitable if they were closer to a residential area.

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

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

The most noticeable 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 Goleta, 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 particular provision of a zoning law to a single violation. These aren't always granted, but generally 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.

Furthermore, 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 Goleta, California Attorney Help?

If you suddenly become involved in a zoning dispute with your local government, it's essential to seek competent legal representation. The counsel of an experienced Goleta, 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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