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Land Use and Zoning Basics


Land use and zoning laws involve the regulation of the use and development of real estate. The most common form of land-use regulation is zoning. Zoning regulations and restrictions are used by municipalities to control and direct the development of property within their borders. Since New York City adopted the first zoning ordinance in 1916, zoning regulations have been adopted by virtually every major urban area in the United States.


What are Zoning Regulations?

The basic purpose and function of zoning is to divide a municipality into residential, commercial, and industrial districts (or zones), that are for the most part separate from one another, with the use of property within each district being reasonably uniform. Within these three main types of districts there generally will be additional restrictions that can be quite detailed -- including the following:


-Specific requirements as to the type of buildings allowed -Location of utility lines

-Restrictions on accessory buildings, building setbacks from the streets and other boundaries

-Size and height of buildings

-Number of rooms


These restrictions may also cover the frontage of lots; minimum lot area; front, rear, and side yards; off-street parking; the number of buildings on a lot; and the number of dwelling units in a certain area. Regulations may restrict areas to single-family homes or to multi-family dwellings or townhouses. In areas of historic or cultural significance, zoning regulations may require that those features be preserved.

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