Real Estate Law Article

Distinguishing Land Use and Zoning

By Zachary H. Brown

When trying to develop property for certain uses, it is likely that a local government has placed restrictions on how that property may be developed. Local governments do this in order to take advantage of a more efficient use of resources, plan for future growth, and for the general safety and welfare of the public. Two of the most common forms of restrictions are known as land use and zoning. These two tools of regulation shape how a community evolves, but the two restrictions are commonly confused for one another. The following shall serve as an overview of what land use and zoning are, and how these two regulatory controls compare and contrast.

Land use is a shortened phrase for what professionals in planning refer to as the future land use map, which is typically located in a local government’s comprehensive plan. The land use map is one of the most important features contained in the comprehensive plan, which is regarded as the blueprint for growth and development for the community. Local governments, when drafting the future land use map and comprehensive plan, will take into account population projections, safety, morals, and the general welfare of the citizens in how best to plan future growth over a long-range planning horizon. The ultimate goal of the comprehensive plan and future land use map is usually to engage in sustainable development so that local governments avoid common issues like urban sprawl or inefficient us of utility and transportation resources. If a property owner wants to change the comprehensive plan and future land use map, he or she will typically go through a more stringent amendment process than a property owner seeking a zoning change.

Zoning is a tool used by local governments whereby the government will spell out the specific uses that are permitted on a property if it were to develop today. Zoning is not as much geared towards future growth like land use is (although it can have an impact on the future of the property), but is focused on how a piece of property may be able to contribute to the rest of the community, and whether development of that property is compatible with the surrounding uses. Zoning isn’t limited to just specific uses, but also a number of different restrictions that include location of utilities, setbacks from the streets or property lines, size and height of structures, etc. The Florida Legislature and Courts have established rights and obligations for property owners, impacted neighbors and local governments. Each local government has its own comprehensive plan and land development code, so each local government uses a different set of regulations when developing property. When trying to develop property, it is important to recognize what kind of land use and zoning designations apply to your property and what entitlements are necessary to accomplish your intended use of your property, and the restrictions that come along with those designations. It is wise to consult with experienced land use/zoning counsel to help you understand and navigate the process.

Zach Brown is an attorney with the law firm Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A. in Lakeland. Questions can be submitted to

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