Zoning laws are designed to regulate land use by taking into consideration historic preservation, environmental concerns, aesthetics, the protection of prime agricultural land, and the need or lack thereof of industry and commercial enterprises, among other things. The four major areas that land development generally falls into are residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural. Each major area is made up of more detailed sub-categories. For example, within an area zoned "residential" there may be separate sections zoned just for single-family homes, mobile homes, and apartment complexes. Likewise, in an area zoned "commercial," there could be separate tracts for gas stations, restaurants, shopping centers, and businesses for adult entertainment.

Typically, zoning laws are instituted by local governments as authorized by state enabling legislation. Though zoning laws prescribe mandatory criteria for land development, they can be changed. Those persons or businesses that are interested in a zoning change can seek to have the area re-zoned or apply for a variance, conditional use permit, or nonconforming use permit.

All construction projects must conform to the applicable zoning laws. A contractor's failure to abide by zoning laws could result in the revocation of his contractor's license or building permit, criminal penalties, civil fines, and even the destruction of a non-conforming structure. The cost of this demolition or in bringing a structure in compliance with the zoning laws will generally be at the contractor's or owner's expense.

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