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Are zoning modifications and rezoning the same thing?

When it comes to land-use regulations in California, two concepts are often misunderstood: zoning modifications and rezoning. While both can result in a change to a property’s zoning designation, they are very different processes. 

Knowing the difference between the two is essential when purchasing commercial property in California.

Temporary versus permanent

A zoning modification is a request to deviate from the specific requirements of a municipality’s zoning regulations. This can include a request to vary the setbacks, building height, or lot coverage requirements. The purpose of a modification is to provide relief to property owners who face “hardship” or “practical difficulties” complying with the zoning regulations. 

There are two types of variances: a “use” variance and an “area” variance.

A “use” variance allows for the use of the property in a way that differs from what is allowed under the current zoning regulations. For example, a residential property in an area zoned for commercial use might be granted a use variance to operate as a daycare center or home office.

An “area” variance allows a property owner to deviate from the specific requirements of the zoning regulations, such as building height, setback, or bulk standards. 

Rezoning, on the other hand, is the process of changing a property’s zoning designation entirely. This can be initiated by either the property owner or the local government. The rezoning process requires review and approval by the city or county, as well as hearings and public comment periods. 

Initiating a rezoning request in California can be a complex process that involves numerous steps, including public hearings, reviews, and approvals. Working with someone who understands the specific rules and procedures and can help you navigate potential challenges is essential.