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It is essential for landowners to understand laws pertaining to land use. While land use and zoning are often mistaken for each other, there are distinct legal differences between them. 


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What are zoning laws?

Zoning laws are laws that describe what landowners are permitted to do with a property in the immediate sense.

If a landowner wanted to develop a property today, zoning laws would determine whether development on the land is compatible or beneficial with the surrounding area. Zoning is also used to regulate certain particular features for a property such as the dimensions of buildings on the property, the space between the property and a road, or the use of certain utilities. 

Zoning laws are used in a much more immediate sense than land use laws. 


What are land use laws?

"Land use" is a phrase that usually refers to a local government's plan for future development of a particular area.

Land use is integral to the planning process for any local government. Making a comprehensive plan for the future of a municipality involves allocating proper land use to ensure the avoidance of inefficient development. Land use planning is also integral for proper environmental conservation. 

Land use planning is one of the pillars of growth for any community looking to expand. Allocating particular areas for development based off of relevant statistics such as population trends is a way of helping both landowners and the community at large. 

Due to the importance of land use, it is more difficult for a property owner to request a change to a future land use map than it is to request a change in zoning.


Are land use laws made on a federal, state, or local level?

Laws pertaining to land use have been legislated on all levels of the government. 

While most land use laws are made on the state and local levels, there are a few essential federal land use laws such as the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The majority of land use laws exist on a state and municipal level, with stringency varying accordingly. 


Why should a landowner be aware of land use and zoning laws?

Land use and zoning laws are enforced and regulated according to local governments and can greatly differ from each other.

For an example of a comprehensive land use plan, the plan for Lakeland, FL reads as follows:

"The Comprehensive Plan is a ten-year blueprint for future growth of the City. It examines relevant information such as population projections, the pattern of existing development, the suitability of land for development, the capacity of public facilities to serve future development, and the financial capacity of the City to make improvements to those facilities.

It establishes official City policies toward land use and growth. It includes a Future Land Use Map that regulates the general type of land use that is allowed (commercial, industrial, residential etc.) and the maximum density (living units per acre) or intensity (square feet of building area) of those uses."

Before purchasing or developing property, it is essential for a landowner to understand what zoning regulations and land use plans apply to their property. 

For more legal information useful to landowners, check out these other articles on The Land Journal.


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