Land Use Law

The authority of state and local governments to regulate land use is not unlimited. Both the United States and Vermont Constitutions grant land owners a certain degree of protection over governments’ ability to restrict an individual’s ability to own and use property. Communities engaged in a planning process, especially those choosing to manage growth and development through land use regulations, should be aware of the legal foundation of planning and land use regulation.

In Vermont, municipalities only have those powers that are granted them by the state.  Vermont’s framework for municipal planning is established in state statute [24 VSA Chapter 117]. Communities are not required to plan, but those that do must meet state requirements for a municipal plan. Likewise, communities are not required to regulate land use and development through zoning or other bylaws – in fact, nearly 40% of Vermont municipalities have not enacted land use regulations. Those that do regulate land use, however, must have a plan in place to adopt or amend bylaws. State statutes that authorize local land use regulation grant broad authority to municipalities, although there are several restrictions and required provisions intended to protect landowners, promote housing and renewable energy, among other purposes.

To help Vermonters understand those issues, Smart Growth Vermont and Vermont Law School’s Land Use Institute, teamed up to develop a series of issue papers addressing a range of legal topics associated with planning and land use regulation. These papers were prepared by the Land Use Institute students under the supervision of faculty, and explain different aspects of constitutional land use law. Disclaimer: The papers are general discussions of legal issues but are not legal advice, which can be provided only by an attorney licensed to practice in Vermont.

Was this information helpful? Please give us feedback and support our Toolbox by becoming a member.