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Zoning Ordinances – Explained

17. What is “Zoning”?

Zoning refers to local (city or county) ordinances controlling how property within specific areas can be used. Zoning ordinances generally divide areas of counties or municipalities into districts designated for residential, commercial, or industrial use. The local government will charge anyone using her property in violation of the ordinance with an infraction.

•    Note: If the land is being used in a certain manner prior to the passage of an ordinance, the user may receive a “non-conforming use” exemption from the ordinance. Landowners who desire to use their land in a manner disallowed by the ordinance may seek an exemption or “variance”. This generally requires petitioning the local zoning board or council and submitting the proposal for public comment.

•    Discussion: How do you feel about allowing local governments to choose the manner in which land can be used? How should this power be weighed against the rights of the landowner?

•    Practice Question: Beth owns a home in a small neighborhood. She has the idea to begin printing t-shirts and selling them over the Internet. She researches all of the applicable requirements for starting a business. One of the requirements is to register for a business license. What will she have to know about zoning in order to apply for a license?

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