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Understanding zoning types and disputes

On Behalf of | Jun 11, 2021 | Condemnation & Eminent Domain, Real Estate Transactions |

Zoning and land use regulations affect our daily lives.  Location, design and layout of residential neighborhoods, shopping centers, office buildings and industrial plants are all based on zoning codes and regulations adopted by Arizona municipalities and counties.  The enforcement of zoning regulations assures Arizona citizens that their neighbors will conduct their day-to-day activities in conformance with applicable zoning standards.

What are zoning laws

Zoning laws are based generally on concepts of public health, safety, general welfare and morals.  The authority of municipalities and counties to enact and enforce zoning regulations comes from statutes enacted by our state legislature generally known as zoning enabling laws.

Based on such zoning enabling authority, Arizona municipalities and counties have adopted their own zoning codes or ordinances.  These ordinances contain four essential classifications of land use – agriculture, residential, business/commercial and industrial.  Each classification is most often referred to as a zoning district.  Zoning districts consist of several different classifications.  For example, the residential or R-District would consist of single family residential and multi-family residential such as patio homes, town homes, condominiums and apartments.  Each category of single-family residential zoning will consist of sub-categories based upon the number of homes allowed per acre, otherwise referred to as density.  For instance, an acre of land consists of 43,560 square feet.  An R1-43 zoning district would establish the density of one home per acre.  An R1-35 district would allow one home per 35,000 square feet of land, R1-18 district would allow one home per 18,000 square feet of land and R1-6 would allow one home per 6000 square feet of land area.  The multiple family zoning districts likewise provide for different density allowances in a given zoning district such as RM-15 which allows for up to 15 dwelling units per acre.

Each residential zoning district provides development standards which regulate the percent of lot coverage, building setbacks and heights.  The larger single family lots have more restrictive standards than the smaller single-family lots.  For instance, a one-acre lot might have a 30-foot side yard setback from adjoining lots, whereas a 10,000 square foot lot might provide for a 10-foot side yard setback.  Likewise, the lot coverage limit on a one-acre lot might be 15% whereas the percentage lot coverage for a 10,000 square foot lot might be 30%.

Development Standards

The development standards applicable to a specific zoning district are most often encountered when a landowner makes application to a city, town or county for a permit for new home construction or expansion of an existing home.  If the plans submitted with the application for a building permit do not comply with applicable development standards, then the permit will be denied unless a variance applies.  An variance allows a deviation from a development standard required by the zoning ordinance, such as setback lines, frontage requirements, height limitations, lots size restrictions and density regulations. To obtain a variance, the applicant must typically establish four criteria: (1) special circumstances apply to the land which do not apply to other similar properties in the zoning district, i.e. unusual lot size, shape or topography; (2) the owner did not create the special circumstances; (3) the variance is necessary for the owner to be able to enjoy reasonable and substantial property rights; and (4) the variance will not be materially detrimental to the area.  If an owner applies for a variance and is denied, there are appeals rights which, if not timely exercised, will be waived. An experienced Arizona zoning attorney can help you through the process.

Use restrictions

In connection with the development and use of a developer’s parcel of land, assurance of the allowable uses and density is essential for purposes of completing due diligence during the acquisition phase and for seeking approval of its developments within the county or municipalities. Although the regulations for each zoning district are required to be uniform, Arizona municipalities have the authority to allow certain standards to be modified by the use of an “overlay zoning district,” sometimes referred to as a “planned area development” or PAD.  An overlay zoning district must be combined with an underlying zoning district and may only be approved after public hearings and approval by the municipal legislative body i.e. mayor and council members. A special use permit or conditional use permit may also be available to an owner to carry out its proposed use. A knowledgeable land use attorney can aid an owner or developer of property to increase the value of its property by securing their highest and best use.

Zoning disputes

Homeowners likely confront the issue of zoning and a property’s allowable uses when a neighbor is conducting a business or another type of non-permitted use within a residential zoning district. A lawyer can assist an owner who is facing code enforcement due to a code violation by working with the municipality to determine if there are any options available besides coming into compliance. And a lawyer may assist an owner with a neighbor who is conducting a use on their property, or committing other code violations, to enforce the zoning ordinances and assist with the code compliance process.

An experienced Arizona zoning attorney with knowledge of Arizona’s zoning laws and land uses is a valuable asset to property owners who need advice as to their legal rights and options with regard to matters affecting their properties and to secure and protect the value of their investments.