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Current Land Use

Current land use designations of the State of Florida for the year 2012. Land use regulations and land use maps can be quite complex and difficult to interpret because a single city or county often uses 50+ individual land use classifications. Fortunately, this map feature displays broad, simplified land use categories such as residential, industrial, agricultural and the like. This makes it easier to interpret without a lot of background training, but it does sacrifice a bit of detail. It's best to check with your local county or city planning agency regarding questions on specific land use categories in your area since every municipality maintains its own set of codes/regulations.

It is important to understand that this map feature does not indicate how all the land in your community is zoned, it displays how property in your area in currently being used. This is an important distinction. In most cases, what you're looking at is, in fact, the result of zoning. However, counties and cities often allow land uses other than what their zoning ordinances call for. This means that while in the majority of cases, this map will reflect the zoning patterns of the community, in some cases it will also reflect exceptions the government has allowed to exist. What this means is that the land uses you see are a function of two primary factors:

1. The county/city's zoning regulations

2. The number and type of allowable nonconforming land uses in the area

1) The land/parcel's zoning

Zoning usually plays the biggest role in shaping a community's land use patterns. Zoning is typically defined as a set of regulations instituted by the local government that restricts the allowable use of a piece of property to certain categories such as residential, commercial or industrial. Zoning regulations can also be used to achieve certain aesthetic qualities by mandating specific lot setbacks, architectural types, color schemes and the like.

To illustrate the concept of zoning, consider this example. If your entire neighborhood is zoned residential, no one can buy a vacant lot and build a gas station on it (which would be a commercial use). If someone purchased the vacant lot, the only thing they could build is a house (and probably a specific type of house at that). However, in places where no zoning regulations have been enacted, people are more-or-less free to build whatever they want, be it a home, gas station, restaurant or an air-strip (though building permits would still probably be required).

Depending on the community, zoning rules can get quite complex. For example, rather than have a single "residential" category, most municipalities have numerous residential subcategories that vary by housing type and allowable density. Commercial, industrial and other uses are subdivided in a similar manner.

All government zoning regulations are only legally justifiable if they protect the public health, safety or welfare in some way. Zoning regulations that cannot be tied to protecting public health, safety or welfare can be thrown out if they are ever challenged in court. Most local governments enact zoning ordinances to enhance or preserve desirable community characteristics and guide growth in an orderly, economically viable fashion. In some cases, zoning ordinances may be enacted or changed to protect public health and safety. For example rapid residential growth on the outskirts of a city may prompt the government to rezone a cattle feedlot from an agricultural use to a residential use. The motivation here would be to eliminate the possibility that flies living on the feedlot could spread disease to the neighboring residential communities.

2) Allowable non-conforming land uses

Just because a piece of land is zoned for one use doesn't necessarily mean that the property is actually being used for that purpose. Even if a zoning ordinance has been enacted, some properties can still be used for other purposes that would not normally be permitted by the zoning ordinance. These properties are called typically called "nonconforming land uses". Therefore, it is important to understand that our current land use map feature does not display how the land in your community is zoned, it displays how that land is currently being used.

Nonconforming land uses exist for two primary reasons. The first is that local governments can give people what is called a variance. A variance allows the property owner to use his or her land for a purpose which differs from what is allowed by the zoning ordinance. Typically, the difference between the zoning ordinance and the use allowed by the variance will not be that great. For example, the local government might issue a variance allowing someone to build a house on one acre of property where the zoning ordinance calls for homes to be built on 5 acres, but the government probably wouldn't allow someone to build a convenience store in that location.

The other reason nonconforming land uses exist is due to changes in the zoning ordinance itself. If the local government institutes a zoning ordinance for the first time or changes the regulations in some way, typically the new regulations don't apply to existing structures (developed pieces of property). Land uses already in place when the zoning ordinance is passed or updated are usually "grandfathered in", which means that the use on the property before the regulations were created or updated may continue even though it doesn't conform to the current set of zoning rules. For example, if a hotel is located in an area that the city just decided to zone as multifamily residential, the owner of the hotel may continue to use it as such, he is not obligated by law to turn the hotel into an apartment complex or bulldoze the building. The catch is that nonconforming structures may not be expanded; nor are they allowed to be rebuilt in the event that the building is destroyed. A structure will not be given nonconforming status if it is abandoned or terminated.

Types of land uses shown

1. Commercial - the commercial areas shown are generally associated with retail/office space. The primary activity taking place in a commercial zone is the distribution of goods and services. A typical example of a commercial center is a strip mall or an office park.

2. Vacant Non-Residential - These regions are important to consider when you're looking at a home. They consist of vacant land which can be used for some sort of non-residential development. Owner's of these properties may be allowed to construct anything from an office park to an industrial complex depending on the specific zoning regulations of the site. If you want to know what specific type of development is allowed on a particular piece of land (i.e. heavy industrial, general office, etc) you should contact your local government.

3. Residential - These places contain high-density urban housing (i.e. apartments, condos, attached homes, etc), low-density rural hamlets and anything in-between.

4. Vacant Residential - These areas consist of undeveloped land that is zoned to allow residential development. Residential development has been fairly lucrative throughout most of Florida's history, so most vacant residential properties will not remain so forever (especially if your community is growing rapidly).

5. Industrial - These are regions designated for light, heavy and other types of industrial activity. Industrial activities can generally be described as those where manufacturing, assembly, or material processing takes place. In Florida, common examples of industrial operations include oil refineries, chemical plants, lumber mills and citrus processing plants. Typically, only light industrial land uses are allowed to exist in close proximity to residential areas. Most light industrial operations do not produce a great deal of noise or pollution.

6. Institutional - Places that are shown as institutional are home to some sort of governmental, educational, religious, health, military, or correctional facility. A typical example of an institutional land use is a courthouse, university or prison. It is important to note that both public and private schools are considered institutional land uses.

7. Public/Semi-Public - These are lands owned by a governmental or quasi-governmental agency. Typical examples are animal preserves, conservation lands and the like.

8. Recreation - Areas are considered recreational if they house a park, golf course, race track, fish camp, zoo, stadium, historic site, or open land. Other recreational land uses such as go-cart tracks, skeet ranges, etc are also included. As you can tell by the description, places shown as recreational may be free and open to the public, or they may be privately owned and operated for profit.

9. Agriculture - These regions may be defined broadly as those which are cultivated to produce food or livestock. Specifically, agricultural land encompasses citrus groves, nurseries, vineyards, pastures, orchards, and a few other land uses. It is important to note that in many cases a farmer will live and have a home built on his or her land. This does not mean that the land is then considered residential; the whole parcel is considered agricultural even if the farmer built a home on his farmland.

10. Centrally Assessed - these areas aren't very common; they include lands that are owned by a railroad company or public service entity. If you see centrally assessed land, there's a good chance it has a set of railroad tracks on it. The tracks may or may not be used frequently.

11. Mining - These are places where mineral extraction is taking place. In Florida, the most common examples people think of are phosphate and gravel mines. These typically exist as large open face "strip mines" from which the minerals are extracted. In some instances transient pollution of local waterways may occur as a result of the mining activities being conducted. Other types of pollution may also manifest themselves depending on the type of mine and the amount of activity onsite.

12. Right of Way - These are sections of land owned by the federal, state or local government; they are commonly referred to as easements. As an example think of a two lane county road. Initially, homes were forty feet back from the road and buffered by trees. As the population of the county grew the local government decided that it needed to add an additional two lanes to the road to maintain an adequate evacuation clearance time for its residents. It expanded the road by using its right of way, which existed as an undeveloped strip of land running right beside the street. The county bulldozed the trees on the right of way and added another lane on each side of the road. All the county residents were happy except the ones who lived alongside the road. Instead of being forty feet from the first lane, they're now only 20 feet away. Rights of way also exist along canals and individual lots for the purposes of transportation and utility inputs.

13. Water Features - These are lakes, streams, canals and other types of water features.

14. Other - Land being used for a purpose other than those describe above. If you're curious about these sites, its best to do a firsthand investigation or check with your local planning agency since the land uses can be somewhat varied.

15. No Information Available - These are areas where the type of land use could not be determined due to lack of records, difficulty in interpretation, etc.

As a final note, we should make it clear that zoning and allowable land uses are not permanent. Land uses can always be changed if the government updates its zoning ordinance at some point in the future. For example, an area currently zoned as agricultural may be rezoned as residential if the property owner requests a zoning change and the county approves it.

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