How Existing Zoning Regulations Restrict Use of Your Property
Local governments enact zoning ordinances to conserve and promote what they consider to be public health, safety, convenience and general welfare of the community. Most zoning ordinances divide a county or municipality into swaths of property that allow different uses (e.g., separating residential from commercial and industrial uses) and that restrict relatively intense uses to certain areas (compare the uses of property in downtown Tucson with those in Vail). While in some areas you can put only single family residences on lots of at least 36 acres, on others you can put highly intense petroleum storage facilities.
Regardless of how you want to develop your property, to figure out what you are currently allowed to build, you start by finding the zoning designation of an individual piece of property. The local municipalities and county publish zoning maps that tell you the zoning of all property within their boundaries; just find your property on the map and find its zoning designation. A good place to start the process of finding a zoning designation for any property located in Pima County is through the County’s MapGuide Website, available at:
By clicking the boxes on the left side of the screen, you can add different data “layers” that show different information about a piece of property. Zoning designation layers become available once you zoomed in enough to see individual street names. Each municipality within Pima County works to keep these unofficial maps up-to-date.
Once you know the zoning designation, check with the zoning code of the jurisdiction to find out what uses are permitted within the applicable zone. Even if what you want to do is not permitted within a zone, sometimes the jurisdiction will allow for its development under a conditional or special use permit that you can get by submitting an application and going through one or more hearings to explain your circumstances.
In some cases, though, unofficial maps do not tell the whole story. For example, some local jurisdictions place additional restrictions on property when they rezone it. Sometimes, the owner agreed to place restrictions on the property in order to obtain a use that an original zoning designation would not allow; sometimes the local jurisdiction would “exact” a condition when it was interested in maintaining a wash or cutting a road through an area. The best way to find these conditions is to check with the official zoning maps and the planning and zoning files of the jurisdiction, although some may also show up in title searches. If you don’t find out these conditions beforehand, they can pop up when the jurisdiction denies your request for a construction permit.
Other restrictions that can pop up may be found in such things as covenants, conditions, and restrictions recorded on your property, or perhaps joint maintenance agreements for wells or private sewer lines draining into the public sewer system. You can also find these restrictions through a title search, either the one you get when you buy a piece of property or find in an updated search.
Remember, too, that jurisdictions sometimes put new requirements on existing property uses. These new regulations create so-called “non-conforming uses” out of the existing structures. Although you can maintain the use and even rebuild it if destroyed, say, in a catastrophic fire, the jurisdiction has created some restrictions on expansion. So, for example, if you own a building on a commercial property located within Pima County since before 1985, you may not be able to expand your business without providing a development plan for the entire parcel, spending sometimes tens of thousands of dollars to comply with development plan requirements.
Although the local jurisdiction likely cannot change conditions privately placed on your property (such as with joint use agreements), you can request it to change conditions that it placed on the property. And if a request to modify individual conditions still won’t let you build what you want, requesting to rezone the property might be necessary.