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Land Use vs Zoning

Determining land use is an important part of every real estate transaction, yet many people aren’t quite sure about what it means and its significance.  When you own real estate, it is important to be aware of surface rights.  In order to protect and adhere to these rights, land use planning and zoning come into play.

What is the Difference between Land Use and Zoning?

While land use and zoning are intrinsically tied together and are often times assumed to be the same thing, they are two completely different terms with separate definitions. Land use vs zoning, what is the difference?

Land Use

Land use is a generic term without a single definition, but is centered around making sure that the occupant’s needs are met while also adhering to the capabilities of the land.  Land use planning balances private property rights with the desired community character.  In the past, land use planning was limited to the existing uses of the land.  However, the use of land has become more complex, thus land use planning has become more sophisticated as well.


Zoning is the division of a municipality or community into various districts and zones in which certain activities are prohibited and others are permitted.  Zoning is a planning control tool, and the way governments regulate the physical development of land based on its usage, purpose, and geology.  Zoning tells us how tall our houses can be and how far buildings need to be away from the street.

What is Zoning in Town Planning?

Zoning is a way of the government regulating land use by dividing land into zones.  It also sets rules on how that land may be used.  In town planning, zoning helps to control land and property markets to ensure complementary uses.  For example, certain areas of a town may be zoned for commercial use, allowing grocery stores and retail shops to do business there.  However, factories could be zoned for another section of town.  Other areas may be zoned for residential homes only.  Zoning can also be utilized to stimulate or slow down development in specific areas.

Types of Land Use

State and federal governments regulate land use through broader legislation, such as environmental laws, coastal management, or scenic easements.  There are many categories of land use, but the five most common types are:


This type of land use means that it is meant to be used for the enjoyment of the people who use it.  This could be parks, athletic fields, playgrounds, swimming pools, etc.  Municipalities are adding recreational land into their planning to ensure the community has places for people to go and enjoy.


This type of land use is designed for structures that help people get from one destination to another.  This includes roads, airports, train stations, subway stations, etc.


This type of land use is utilized for the growing and harvesting of crops and livestock.  This includes ranches, farms, pastures, etc.


This type of land use is for building homes.  These could be mobile homes, single-family homes, or apartment complexes.


This type of land use is designated for businesses, warehouses, shops, and other infrastructures related to commerce.  These could be office buildings, restaurants, shops, and other businesses.

How is Zoning Necessary for Land Use Planning?

Land use planning is designed to guide future development.  Municipalities commonly follow a planning process that ultimately results in a comprehensive or master plan.  This master plan is then put into effect through zoning regulations.  Through zoning, these planning initiatives allow the creation of an overall future plan that offers one comprehensive vision and one set of regulations.

Making Sense of it All

Before you begin development on a home or commercial structure, it is important to find out how your land can be used and what zone you are currently operating out of.  It is also important to realize that land use and zoning laws can change without much warning.  The most common method for zoning laws to be changed is through a zoning amendment.  Once a zoning amendment has been adopted, it’s up to the real estate owner to understand what these changes involve and if you are required to comply with them.

I’m Rob Robinson, and I understand that land use and zoning laws can be a slippery slope for many real estate owners to climb.  I have spent countless hours guiding both public and private clients through the residential and commercial development process in Florida, and I am happy to do the same for you.  No development is too small for my broad experience.  Please, contact my office before you purchase any real estate property.

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