Land and business owners cannot build or operate their business at any location they choose or without restriction. Pennsylvania communities have zoning and land use regulations that dictate the use of different land, restrict the types of use for the land or govern the rate of development. Dealing with land use and zoning ordinances is an important part of commercial real estate.

Zoning is only one requirement that must be dealt with before property may be occupied or used. Construction and occupancy codes, permits for apparatus such as boilers and environmental reviews are only some of the other issues.

Zoning is usually enacted at the municipal level in Pennsylvania. But the law also gives some power to counties to enact these codes. Municipal ordinances take precedence over county codes. Only eight counties have any zoning ordinances.

Municipal zoning and land use govern all type of development. These cover matters such as performance, density, access to local roads, required open space and transfer of development rights. A small number of ordinances in this state also contain mediation provisions to resolve disputes over land use.

Population size plays a large role in whether a locality has a zoning code. Municipalities in urban counties are more likely to have thee ordinances. Localities that underwent population and building growth are also more likely to have these regulations.

Ninety-seven percent of localities in southwest Pennsylvania have zoning ordinances. Most of these ordinances were updated within the last 10 years.

The zoning officer serves part-time in over half of Pennsylvania localities that enforce zoning. Their duties include making the first decision on a zoning application, representing the locality at zoning board hearings, advising the local governing authority about needed changes in their ordinance and attending zoning meetings.

Parties may file appeals of a zoning officers determination with a zoning hearing board. These boards may also review request for relief from the strict application of a zoning ordinance, known as a variance request, if application of the ordinance would cause hardship.

Zoning boards are appointed and act somewhat like a court but without strict procedures. Boards may also consider substantive validity challenges to ordinances and requests for amendments to fix a problem with the zoning ordinance.