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How can you challenge zoning to maintain current land usage?

Landowners in Pennsylvania may or may not be aware that the pieces of land that they live on and own are zoned for a particular use. After reading this statement, some may be asking, "What does zoning mean?" Zoning laws are passed by the government and regulate the use of the land while facilitating urban planning.

Ideally, and according the proponents of zoning, these regulations ensure that communities are growing in an orderly manner and also serving public interest. State governments can zone in order to advance the morals, health, general welfare or safety their communities. They then pass this power onto local governments who can control the usage of particular locations.

When a landowner does not like the way their land is zoned there are two options available to them to dispute the zoning regulation. First, they can ask the government to make an exception for their portion of land. The second option is to challenge the zoning ordinance on the basis of illegality, improperness or unconstitutionality.

Zoning ordinances do not always remain constant and sometimes landowners have to deal with rezoning. In these cases where a zoning ordinance that impacts a landowner's property is changed, there are numerous options available to the landowner to challenge the change.

Sometimes the landowner is allowed to continue using their land in the nonconforming manner, which is called a lawful nonconforming use. However, if the benefit to the public of the changed zoning ordinance outweighs the detriment caused to the nonconforming landowner then the nonconforming use may not be allowed.

The other option in this case is to request a variance. In order to successfully request a variance the landowner has the burden of proving that the effort to conform to the new zoning ordinance would create an undue hardship. In some states, a variance cannot be granted if it is detrimental to the public interest.

Lastly, there is the option to obtain a special permit. This is granted when a specific use is expressly granted as an exception within the ordinance itself.

An experienced land use and zoning attorney can help explain these options further depending on the specifics of your case.

Source: FindLaw, "Options for Zoning Relief," accessed on Aug. 3, 2014

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