Zoning and Real Estate Development

Free 15 Minute Consultation

Zoning & Real Estate Development Services In San Diego

We represent clients with a range of projects for commercial development, traditional neighborhood development, mixed-use infill and green development. We can act as your legal counsel on your project from start to finish, protecting your best interests and guiding you through the municipal red tape related to land use or zoning regulations and approvals. Our team includes attorneys, brokers, investors, and design-build affiliates, who understand the inner workings of the necessary and steps to develop real estate in a creative and cost-effective manner with the goal of maximizing equity returns for our clients and their investors. Once a development is complete, we are able to consult our clients on sales, commercial leasing, and other financial matters through our real estate brokerage division, Equity Realty.

Navigating You Through Complex Land Use Matters

Residential land development, commercial projects, changes to existing structures, new builds, and new business uses all require entitlements from local governments – this can involve a complex web of municipal, state, and federal laws.

Our seasoned real estate attorneys have navigated the complicated network of land use regulation in California. We routinely support the processing of tentative and final subdivision maps, as well as conditional use permits, variances, and other requests for exception to underlying General Plan or Zoning regulations-including General Plan Amendments and Specific Plans.

When it comes to permitting, we believe in taking a proactive role to ensure that we assess all potential issues at the outset with a goal of protecting our clients’ equity. By getting involved prior to the application stage and meeting with the engineering and planning professionals early on, we can help ensure your project is structured in the most economically feasible and legally advantageous way. Our unique experience allows us to pinpoint concerns well before the local planning department may raise them as conditions to approval. Our detailed understanding of land use law helps us make your case to local government staff before a hearing is even scheduled.

Due Diligence For Real Estate Acquisition And Investment

It is essential to understand the legal entitlements and other land use restrictions affecting property before you purchase. Land use law can determine a project’s failure or successful completion of a project on time and within budget. We have attorneys who are experienced in this process and can effectively manage and assist with your due diligence, and can even pursue informal, low-cost pre-application meetings with cities and counties to ensure that client expectations align with city and county policy.

Zoning and Real Estate Development Lawyers

Zoning and land use involves regulating and developing properties. Zoning is the most common type of regulation used in real estate development and the use of land. Zoning restrictions or regulations are used by municipalities or cities to control and lead development inside their boundaries. New York was the first city in the US to adopt a zoning ordinance, whose rules were enacted in 1916.

Zoning Regulations and Restrictions

The basic reason for zoning is to section and separate residential, industrial, or commercial districts, also referred to as zones. By taking this approach, the development of a property and its use can be made uniform. Inside the main types of districts—commercial, residential, and industrial—restrictions establish the requirements for the establishment of real estate.

These requirements may include the following:

  • Restrictions for constructing structures
  • Restrictions on building setbacks and accessory structures
  • The location of utility lines
  • The height and size of buildings
  • The number of rooms in a building
  • Restrictions may also cover the following:
  • Frontage lots
  • The minimum area for a lot
  • The number of dwellings for designated areas
  • Front, rear, or side yards

The regulations for zoning may also narrow an area to the building of multi-family dwellings, town-homes, or single-family properties. In historic areas, zoning may extend to preservation requirements for specific properties.

Residential Zoning

Residential zoning may include single-family residences (SFRs) or any other residential property, such as duplexes, condominiums, or apartments. Regulations generally restrict the types of animals that can inhabit a residence.

While dogs, birds, and cats are allowed in residential communities, sheep, horses, chickens, and animals, which are not generally considered domestic pets, are subject to certain regulations. Many residential zoning ordinances prevent keeping farm animals in residential communities.

Residential zoning laws that cover home-based businesses are based on the type of business and the hours of operation. Regulations may also cover noise control or parking. Normally, rules for home-based businesses in condominiums are more restrictive than they are for private homes.

Commercial Zoning

Commercial zoning covers regulations for warehouses, hotels, shopping malls, and office buildings. Vacant land that can be developed for commercial use is also included under this type of zoning. In fact, almost any type of real estate, other than single-family lots or dwellings, can be included under commercial zoning. The availability of parking can affect commercial zoning as can the proximity of certain businesses to one another.

Industrial Zoning

Just like commercial zoning, industrial zoning is specific to the type of business that is built and established. Zoning may involve concerns related to noise and the amount of land area that is available for use. The height of a building may be considered as well. Setback requirements are also usually greater for industrially zoned real estate.

Business Litigation San Diego

Development Regulations

Land-use regulations are not just confined to controlling the use of existing structures. In many instances, zoning directs future developments. Therefore, municipal areas often set up a master plan to direct their goals in development. The master plan is dictated by certain ordinances.

These ordinances control zoning, including the management of subdivisions, public facility planning, street plans, and structural regulations. Ultimately, a developer plans a sub-division by following a master plan.

Zoning Regulation Limitations

Because zoning is restrictive, it can lead to legal disputes. The courts support zoning as long as it is reasonable and not established arbitrarily. Therefore, zoning that is reasonable is attributed to public safety and health, comfort, and morals. When zoning becomes controversial, attorneys often question the extent of certain regulations, such as the taking of a private property so it can be used publicly.

Restrictions Placed by Developers

Private Easement Attorney San Diego

Not all land-use regulations are created by governments. In these instances, restrictions for land use can be set by a land developer. Developers may add restrictions in their projects using restrictive covenants and easements.

Restrictive Covenants

Restrictive covenants are used by developers to establish the minimum size of homes, setback lines, and outline the landscaping for a community.


Easements represent the rights to use real estate for specific reasons. Today, easements may be used for public goals, such as conservation and the sustainment of open spaces. For instance, an easement may be established to keep people from building on a piece of land intended for use as a green space.

The Use of Police Power

Zoning, when used by a county or city government, is permitted because of the police power of the municipality. Police power is defined as the power of a city or country to use regulations to enhance and protect the general welfare, morals, and health of a community. Therefore, zoning regulations can only be enforced if they are directly associated with the police power exerted by a municipality.

Disputing a Zoning Regulation

When a zoning regulation is disputed, it is assessed to see whether the regulation was made in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner. Some landowners, who dispute zoning regulations, claim that the regulation has modified the characteristics of the real estate so that it cannot be used reasonably. In these situations, the owner normally seeks financial compensation from the governmental entity.

Options to Disputes

If a plaintiff cannot challenge a regulation, he or she might try to have the zoning regulation amended. Rezoning necessitates that a litigant show that a modification in the character of the property has occurred. It is also important that a landowner prove that the resulting hardship of a zoning regulation be substantial while its contribution to the public good has been reduced.


A variance is another way to obtain relief from an unwanted zoning regulation. Variances are approved when the zoning authority discovers that an unreasonable hardship will occur if the variance is not issued. Any hardship must be unique to the land use. Two types of variances are used in this respect: use variances and area variances.

Area Variances

An area variance entails the inclusion of a physical anomaly on the land that makes building, pursuant to the zoning requirements, almost impossible. Therefore, an area variance relaxes the zoning restrictions so construction can proceed.

Use Variances

A use variance permits the real estate to be used in a way that is not allowed by zoning. For example, a use variance may allow a business to operate in an area that is zoned residential.

Conditional or Special Use

Zoning restrictions can also be relaxed by applying for a special use or conditional use permit. The relief is granted as long as it does not interfere with the overall scheme of a community, and all the conditions in a zoning ordinance are met. Therefore, a special use permit may be used to develop a recreational facility in a residentially zoned area.

Zoning and Development Legal Assistance

Zoning regulations can lead to issues with developers because of the amount of red tape that is involved in their use. That is why real estate investors and developers need to depend on a legal firm, such as Equity Legal LLP in San Diego.

When you require representation in a zoning matter, you need to refer to a legal professional who is well versed in zoning law. Real estate lawyers who understand the various aspects of zoning can help you reach a reasonable settlement in any property or zoning dispute.


Expert Property & Business Lawyers

Scroll to Top