Anyone who intends to build something in a Florida city, from a home addition to a retail development, has to know something about the process of the local government’s land use regulation. Each city has unique zoning ordinances and its own comprehensive land use plan, as well as local planning, zoning, and code enforcement boards that make decisions on land use issues.
Any property owner or developer who plans to develop or build anything, whether it is a new house or a housing development, will need approval from the local land use, zoning, and building departments. Obtaining approval from these departments takes time and requires persistence by the applicant property owners and developers. If the property being developed is outside of city boundaries, the county government may then be the most relevant authority for land use approvals.
The State of Florida has delegated most of the authority and control to local governments to decide how to regulate development and building within their city or county jurisdiction, so it is crucial for a landowner or developer to understand the local codes and regulations. The applicants should also learn how to navigate the nuances of the laws and work within the local system to avoid unnecessary complications with the development and building plan approvals.
Comprehensive Plan And Zoning Restrictions
Under Florida law, local governments have the power to divide their cities into different zones that permit certain activities and forbid others uses. Zoning can be one of the most common and contentious property-use issues among local landowners, developers, and government representatives. Courts have allowed local governments a great deal of authority to create comprehensive plans that define the general type of community that they wish to have. Courts also give cities a lot of freedom to interpret zoning decisions and variances within those areas as they see fit. If you want to use your property for a purpose other than what is allowed for how it is zoned—for example, for business purposes when the area is zoned as residential—you will have to apply for rezoning. It is important to consider the city’s comprehensive plan when proposing a new development or a different use for an area because the local government generally is bound by the plan and is not likely to authorize a big shift in the use of the property.
Local Government Vs. Neighbors
Florida laws give local governments the authority to decide where to allow certain land and property uses. The law says that there must be approval from adjoining owners before certain changes to the status of a property or approval of a new development may occur. In some cases, neighboring property owners have appealed to the city to try to block some changes or developments by using this part of the law.
However, courts have explained that it would violate the local government’s authority to make zoning and land use decisions if it were required to decide these issues based on a popular vote of neighboring property owners. In one case, a court ruled that local government authorities had full authority to place an airport in an area of their choosing, despite the presence of a strong majority of local residents who were opposed to that use. Property owners are allowed to make a use of their property in a way that follows local planning and zoning laws, even if neighbors want to ‘overrule’ the decision of the local government and disallow the use.
Powers Of Code Enforcement Boards
Florida state land use law directs local governments to establish code enforcement boards that are in charge of overseeing enforcement of local land use laws. Some decisions and policies require the approval of the board. State law encourages city governments to have board members who understand the issues involved in local land use decisions, as the law says that, whenever possible, an enforcement board should include “an architect, a businessperson, an engineer, a general contractor, a subcontractor, and a realtor.”
If a local code enforcement officer finds that your property use is in violation of local law and you want to dispute this determination, there may be a hearing by the enforcement board to rule on the issue. Disputing a code violation before the enforcement board can be costly though. If the board decides in favor of the city, you may have to pay all of the city’s costs for the hearing.
Some land use controls that have to be considered in making building and development plans are governed by agreements among neighbors, utility companies, or other individuals to allow or forbid certain uses of some land. Prior to beginning a development or building project, a thorough understanding of the status of any easements is essential. An easement grants someone else use of part of your property for a certain purpose. They may be express, which require a written agreement, or implied. For example, if you have a power pole in your yard, the electric company likely has an easement that will allow them access to and control of the pole.
A prescriptive easement is another type of easement that is created when someone uses your property in a certain way for a certain amount of time without your express permission. For example, imagine that you own property on a lake and your land-locked neighbor has gotten to the lake by taking a path through your property for the past 20 years. If you never explicitly told them that they could walk through your property but also never stopped them, they may have a prescriptive easement. This would mean that your neighbor now has a right to use that path, and you cannot prevent them from doing so.
You must consider any of these easements before building on your property, as you cannot build in a way that would cut off access to the person or entity with the easement. You may need to thoroughly analyze any such restrictions when creating any development plans.
Your Florida Local Government Lawyer
If you want to develop or build anything in Florida, then you must be up to speed on Florida’s codes and regulations. But the rules are complex and often necessitate the involvement of an experienced local government attorney to get things done properly. The attorneys at Koberlein Law Offices are experienced local government attorneys. We are here to help you navigate the process and to ensure that your goals are fulfilled. Feel free to reach out to our office for a free consultation by calling us toll-free at 877.556.2889 or by contacting us online.
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