Real Estate Development


Development of property cannot be done without adherence to local, state, and possibly federal regulations. There are a variety of governmental regulations that control how property is to be developed, altered or even if it can be used for its intended purpose. If you are faced with commercial real estate issues consult an attorney. Real estate lawyers are an excellent resource for this information.

Zoning: Variances and Rezoning

Governments create restrictions on the use of real estate by establishing zoning regulations. Zoning is any restriction or requirement that controls a piece of property. This control can cover any use of property, from construction to what sort of animals can be kept. For example, a particular piece of property may be in an area that is zoned for heavy industry. In this case there can be no development of residential or possibly even light industry. If a property owner wants to develop the property for a purpose aside from heavy industry a variance will have to be applied for.

If there is a desire to develop a piece of real estate the first step should be to consult the applicable zoning ordinances. This can be done by visiting the local government office that administers zoning regulations, usually an office in a city hall that is dedicated to this issue. Zoning ordinances are public records that will contain very specific information about a parcel of real estate including maps and surveys.

An application to depart from a particular zoning regulation is called a variance. This differs from an administrative process to wholly rezone and area. A variance is a waiver to an existing zoning regulation. Rezoning involves a much more complicated procedure of government application, community involvement, and public hearings. A variance will ordinarily not be applicable to a request for a major deviation from ordinance such as residential to industrial. A variance would be used to alter one type of industrial zoning for another or possibly from retail to an apartment complex.

Nonconforming Use

A topic that is within zoning but is not a variance is the nonconforming use. This is a violation of the current zoning ordinance by a structure or land-use that was in existence before the passage of the zoning law. In this instance the violation might be ignored (depending on the severity and scale) and the use could be “grandfathered” into acceptance.

Environmental Protection Issues

A commercial real estate owner may encounter problems and cost in regard to environmental regulations. These laws can be within state, local or federal jurisdiction. There is a wide assortment of laws that effect real estate development because of environmental concerns, for example, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Both of these laws place restrictions on land use and provide for administrative procedures that have to be followed if land-use touches on their coverage.


Real estate development must be done with the knowledge that there are laws that control the use of private property. Zoning and environmental regulations must be followed or development could be stopped or delayed.

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DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein in intended for informational purposes only and should not be construes as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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