Property Zoning -- The Ups And Downs

Real estate zoning is so common in most areas today that many people are surprised to learn that the practice has had a history of controversy. In fact, disputes over zoning ordinance are never ending.

The right to use real estate according to the personal whims and dictates of the owners is deeply rooted in the common law heritage or our nation. Zoning ordinances -- a limitation or restriction of land usage for the common good, regardless of the owner's wishes -- represent a compromise of this tradition and continues to cause disagreements.

Rather than attempting to settle disputes on a personal basis or taking the case to court, most communities have delegated decisions to a zoning commission or zoning boards, which is authorized to determine land use. If an objection arises, each party can present its position at a hearing. If no agreement is reached, the dispute may be settled by the city council, the courts, or by referendum.

Many property owners take matters of zoning for granted. They have little or no understanding of the impact zoning can have on the community and their own property values.

For example, people owning or buying property on a busy street should be aware that a combination of increased traffic flow, noise and location could result in a change in zoning from single-family residential to use for apartment, office or industrial space.

While zoning changes normally reflect community growth and often have a positive effect, it should be noted that some changes may unfairly restrict private property rights. Property owners in affected areas are entitled to protest a zoning change. If enough property owners in an area support your position, proposed zoning changes can be defeated.

As property owners in our highly mobile population move from city to city, they often are confronted with confusing zoning laws and terminology. The growth of planning boards make uniform designations more desirable, since they usually work with a larger area and must reconcile the meaning of zoning terms used by the various communities in their jurisdiction.

If you have any doubts about zoning regulations in your area, contact the local zoning authority or the Flint Area Association of Realtors. They can provide you with information on area trends, what property is being rezoned, what property might be subject to change in the near future and the procedures involved in requesting a zoning change.