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Challenges to zoning ordinances

As Maryland residents may know, local governments use zoning as a way to protect the health and welfare of residents as well as the characteristics of a particular area. On occasion, the governing body may initiate a rezoning plan that may infringe on property owners' rights. In such cases, the landowner may seek to either waive or challenge the new zoning requirements.

Landowners whose property use changes under new zoning laws may ask the local authorities to grant a waiver or issue a variance. A landowner who has used its property in a particular way such as conducting a business and has expended funds to do so may ask that this be allowed to continue unabated despite the ordinance. If granted, this is considered to be a lawful nonconforming use.

Another way to use property as it has been used prior to new zoning is to ask for a variance. Some variances focus on structures that already existed on the property while others deal with the property usage. The owner must prove the new zoning infringes and causes privation. In addition, zoning ordinances sometimes include situations that are exempt from the ordinance for which a landowner may apply.

If the landowner is unable to obtain a waiver or variance and is not entitled to an exemption permit, it may be possible to challenge the ordinance on constitutional or other grounds. Constitutionally, a property owner must be notified that a zoning ordinance is about to be changed using appropriate procedures. The landowner may employ the argument that by passing a zoning ordinance, authorities have taken the individual's land for public use. A landowner whose land use may be changed due to zoning may benefit from legal advice from a real estate attorney who can suggest possible options to deal with the situation.

Source: Findlaw, "Non-Conforming Uses and Variances", December 29, 2014

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