Land Use and Zoning Question

UPDATED: Oct 2, 2022

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Land Use and Zoning Question

Here is my dilemma My father owns 15 acres in a rural area of El Paso county Colorado. He bought the land in the early 1970s and has used the property as a salvage yard since that time. When he purchased the property there was no zoning, and for almost 50 years it has been used as a salvage yard. Now, after years of this property not being zoned and being a salvage yard suddenly the county decided to zone the property residential. No one bothered to notify my father of the zoning, they just did it and then told him afterward by sending a notice of violation. I dont see how this could possibly be legal I mean, come on, its been a salvage yard for 50 years, now theyre just going to come in and put houses in??? Hows is that even going to work? What about all the oil, anti-freeze, power steering fluid, brake fluid, battery acid, gasoline that has undoubtedly soaked into the ground over the years??? Can you just build houses on top of it and call it good? I wouldnt think so. Do they expect my dad to pay for the cleanup since theyve decided its going to be residential now? How is that fair or legal?

Asked on October 25, 2019 under Real Estate Law, Colorado


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Counties or municipalities can change zoning: that is legal. The law does not require that the zoning (or lack of zoning) be set forever. Even if something has been one way for, say, 50 years, it can be changed (or zoning implemented where there is none). If it was not changed the proper way--e.g. proper notice was not sent out; the vote was taken without a sufficient quorum; no hearings were held, if hearings were required; etc.--it may be possible to strike down the zoning on that basis, but this is a difficult thing to do: you have to be able to understand all the procedures for this kind of change under county law then show the procuredes were not followed. A lawsuit against the county would be required. A good idea would be you and your father to consult with an attorney who specializes in land-use and zoning issues, to understand both if and how he can challenge this and also (if he can't) the ramifications for him, such as in regard to clean-up.

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