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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in California

The laws controlling how land can and cannot be used in Marin County, California are fairly perplexing, and can be confusing to laypersons. This should provide a basic overview.

Local governments will usually divide the city or town into sections, called "zones," each of which is designated for a specific use, such as residential homes, commercial businesses, agriculture, manufacturing, etc. This process is known as "zoning."

Zoning serves several different purposes - but it its major one is to increase or preserve property values by ensuring that conflicting uses don't result in legal disputes. Obviously, if you bought a house in a residential neighborhood, and your neighbor could just convert his property into a steel mill, your property's value as a residential lot would decrease significantly.

Zoning laws generally acknowledge the necessities of things like factories, sewage treatment plants, and stockyards, but recognize that such activities shouldn't be done in residential areas.

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

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

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

Of course, just fixing a zoning violation isn't always affordable or easy, and may interfere with your planned use of your property. For instance, you might have just undertaken a significant remodeling of your home, and later found out that some small part of it technically doesn't conform to Marin 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 very minor, and enforcing the ordinance would be unduly burdensome and not in the public interest.

You are also protected if your land is currently in complete compliance with local zoning regulations, but the area where your land sits is re-zoned, and your property is suddenly not in compliance with the new zoning regulations. Generally, these new regulations cannot be utilized to force you to change existing conditions on your property. No laws can be applied retroactively, under the U.S. Constitution. Of course, if you make any improvements on your land after the law changes, you'll have to comply with the new law.

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How Can a Marin County, California Attorney Help?

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