by Clark A. Andrews, O'Reilly Rancilio P.C.
Zoning involves the regulation of land use by public agencies. The purpose of zoning laws is to balance the competing interest of a property owner to use his land as he wishes against the interests of neighboring property owners and the community at large.
Zoning laws are established by the public agency adopting a law (called a statute or ordinance) following a specified procedure that includes a public hearing. A zoning ordinance typically establishes different categories of land use (referred to as zoning districts) that have different restrictions. Most zoning ordinances include residential, multiple family residential, office, commercial, and industrial districts. The different use categories establish different regulations, as uses allowed in commercial and industrial districts are often unsuitable for residential areas. Zoning ordinances also contain a zoning map, which shows the zoning that applies to each parcel of property.
Zoning ordinances usually contain both land use restrictions (which specify what uses are allowed within the particular zoning district) and area and bulk regulations (which ordinarily regulate maximum parcel development and spacing between uses). Uses which may adversely affect neighbors are sometimes permitted in zoning ordinances as special approval land uses, which are not allowed without specific permission from the community’s planning commission or legislative body after a public hearing.
A person wishing to use his property without meeting all of the zoning restrictions may ask to have his property rezoned by the community’s governing body or seek a variance from the community’s zoning board of appeals. The zoning board can approve a variance only if there is a hardship or practical difficulty in complying with the literal requirements of the ordinance due to unusual characteristics of the property. Person hardship or practical difficulty does not justify the granting of a variance.
Enforcement of the zoning ordinance is ordinarily done by the public agency through prosecution of an ordinance violation in the local district court or by an enforcement action in the circuit court rather than by private individuals. All municipal decisions are subject to review by the courts to determine whether they were properly made.