Any person or company involved with commercial, industrial, or residential property needs to understand a variety of land use issues. Experienced Florida real estate lawyers can explain the legal requirements and pitfalls.
Land development issues vary depending on the current use of the land, the current development of the land, and what plans there are to change the land. There are federal, state, and county laws that affect land use development in Florida.
General Zoning Issues in Florida Land Development
One of the most common land use issues is which zoning laws and permit restrictions apply.
Each county enacts certain zoning laws. These ordinances regulate industrial, commercial, and residential uses. Zoning laws also exist for agriculture and farming. There are sometimes laws for special purpose zoning such as for schools and churches. Zoning laws regulate
- The size of the land
- The use of the land
- The height of various structures
- How far structures need to be set back from the roads
- Many other land use issues
Zoning laws specify more than just how developers, property owners, and others with interests in the land can use the land. Zoning laws also indicate how interested parties can request zoning law changes and what happens when breaches of the law occur.
In general, zoning laws aim to provide a broad template for the look and feel of neighborhoods. Legislators generally design the laws to strike a balance between economic, historic, social, and aesthetic needs.
Specific land use development issues
Developers often seek approval to alter the permitted use of the property they own or wish to develop. For example, commercial developers may seek authority to use the residential property for commercial use. Some developers may seek a mixed-used – such as industrial and commercials.
Experienced Florida land use development attorneys can help developers with the following zoning issues – and related land use development issues
- Requests for exceptions to how the property will be used.
- Disputes over boundaries. The property deeds specify the exact boundaries of the land. Sometimes there are disputes about who owns the land. Surveyors are often used to verify exact boundaries. Developers may need to acquire nearby property to achieve their goals. Once the boundaries are clear, experienced lawyers may work with the property owner to purchase or lease neighboring property.
- Easement disputes. Easements are generally the right to use the property of another. Sometimes, for example, a developer requests an easement to make access to the developed land easier.
- Building permits. The local government requires these permits before any work on the property can begin. Local building codes generally regulate how the work should be done so that it meets safety standards; environmental laws; and electrical, plumbing, and other building essentials.
Additional permits and special permits are sometimes necessary to regrade property, manage traffic issues while the property is being developed, to subdivide land, and other issues. If the government is developing a property that has a public use, the government may seek to acquire property through eminent domain.
A variance is a formal request to alter the existing zoning approved use of the land. A zoning board can approve a variance if the property owner can show that the current use creates a hardship. For example, variances often request to change the setback requirements, add space for parking, change the allowed height (to allow additional offices), and other improvements.
Variances generally fall into two categories – use variances and size/area variances. An example of a use variance is when a commercial owner may seek a variance to add a home to the site. An area variance is often requested to allow builders to make practical changes that save a lot of money but don’t significantly change the layout of the developed land from other nearby properties.
Generally, a local zoning board decides when to grant variances. Experienced land use development lawyers understand the requirements to obtain variance approval.
Large scape development in Florida
Many large-scale projects such as shopping malls and residential neighborhoods with hundreds of homes have broad environmental, traffic, neighborhood identity, and other regional concerns. Often, large-scale developments can affect multiple towns or even multiple counties.
Large-scale development projects in Florida used to be regulated by the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) laws. In 2015, Florida changed the regulations for large-scale developments. Today, the “state coordinated review” process governs large-scale development.
Land Use Development Agreements
Development agreements are contracts between the property owner (for most purposes, the developer) and the county, city, or local jurisdiction where the property is located. The agreement should cover most, if not all, of the following issues:
- The conditions for the development of the land and property
- Assuredness that there won’t be further zoning law changes that could affect the development project. In other words, the developer wants assurances that zoning rights have vested.
- The need for the developer to provide public open spaces, infrastructure improvements, and other public benefits. Often, the developer agrees to finance some of these benefits.
- The process of keeping, honoring, and enforcing the agreement
- A review of maintenance requirements and other long-term costs
- The terms of periodic compliance reviews such as for parking and landscaping
Experienced Florida land use development lawyers understand the importance of getting these agreements right the first time. Negotiating changes once the work begins can be difficult.