Hugh J. M. Jones, III, P.C. Hugh J. M. Jones, III, P.C.

When you buy a home, a piece of land or perhaps a commercial building in Virginia – or anywhere else, in fact – you have big dreams for how you will use it. Just make sure you don't dream too big until your municipality tells you it's okay to do so.

For instance, that vacant land that you just bought sits between two homes in a large residential community. You'd love to build a sub shop or a pizza place to take advantage of the number of hungry people in the area. Or that really large home where a family with 10 kids used to live? You can see a bed and breakfast there.

You can't build anything, though, with proper permits and finding out if your plan conforms to the zoning of the area. Land use and zoning laws regulate just how real estate can be used and developed. New York City passed the nation's first zoning ordinance in 1916, and since then, zoning laws have become commonplace throughout the nation.

Zoning laws divide areas into commercial, residential and industrial zones. They regulate everything from the type of buildings allowed, to the size and height of buildings, to how far buildings must sit back from the street, to the number of units in an apartment complex. The goal is to make sure each building is appropriate for its area.

Land use and zoning laws are determined on the local level. If the property owner disagrees with the denial of a building – or if a neighborhood doesn't want, say, a mini-mart open 24/7 that has gotten approval in their area – these decisions can wind up in court once local appeals have been exhausted.

Once you get wind from local officials that your planned project might not meet your area's zoning or land use rules, it's time to call in a Virginia attorney who has experience dealing with such laws. You have a lot of money and dreams tied up in your property, and an attorney can help you navigate the situation.

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