You found a great piece of land where you would like to build a mixed-use development: retail on the ground level, rental apartments up above them. Then your real-estate agent does a little checking and tells you that to construct the building you envision, you’ll need a zoning variance.

So, just what does that entail?

In Mississippi and throughout the United States, municipalities adopt zoning laws to regulate the development and use of property. The first zoning ordinance took effect in New York City in 1916.

Zoning laws determine if neighborhoods or even specific plots of land can be used for commercial, industrial or residential usage. And within each zoning category are additional designations. For example, in areas zoned residential, there are allowances for single-family homes or multifamily homes of varying density, among the designations. They generally are part of a community’s master plan.

Additionally, zoning laws can specify the type of buildings that can be constructed, their size and height, required setbacks and even where utilities need to be placed – and much more.

If a city planning department rejects your blueprints because of a violation of zoning laws, there is a method of appeal – usually through a local zoning board. They can take testimony and hear appeals as they reconsider your project.

While going before the appeals board might sound simple, it is a complex process that requires preparation and a degree of expertise. An attorney experienced in real estate and land use issues can be called upon to help with the preparation of necessary documents and can represent your interests before the board.