California municipalities enact zoning laws to maintain property values and to designate specific land areas for parks, commercial, industrial and residential uses. Requests for a zoning exception require the property owner, or potential owner, to submit an application and possibly present their case before a public zoning board meeting.
Examples of zoning variances
Zoning laws regulate individual land parcels and larger areas of multiple lots. Owners may request the zoning board to grant a variance for use or development for either of these area types.
For example, a zoning variance may be necessary if a property owner wants to convert a residential home into a dentist’s office in an area that only allows residential buildings. The board might approve the request to enable this non-residential conversion if there were no other local dentists.
Suppose you are looking for a new medical office, and there is a promising building in a retail shopping center with no medical use zoning. Wait for a variance approval before you finalize the purchase.
Perhaps you’re a developer who wants to construct a condominium complex in a neighborhood with single-family zoning. This type of change requires variance approval after a public hearing.
Protect your property value
Community organizers post the time and place of zoning board meetings in local newspapers and social media. If your land adjoins a large, proposed development project, research the issue and raise any objections at the public hearing.
Land use litigation may result when the governing board does not grant your request for a zoning variance or when the city rezones your land and claims it through eminent domain without appropriately compensating you. Zoning variances are uncommon, but if one affects you, assert your rights.
When you buy property, verify the zoning regulations before you finalize the sale. If you plan to build on a large tract of vacant land, you may need to consider environmental and traffic issues in addition to zoning.