Land use practice encompasses those areas of the law which are focused on public efforts to shape the use and development of private land use either through regulation or through governmental incentives. It includes both the substantive and the procedural aspects of federal and state laws regulating the environment and ensuring a place for environmental concerns in public decision-making; federal, state, and local programs to protect significant historic and archeological resources; local subdivision, site planning, zoning and mapping laws; and the use by all levels of government of incentives, whether through the tax system or special governmental powers to facilitate desirable development.

The land use practitioner brings an understanding of these laws and programs and how they relate to each other to any one of the variety of roles: counseling, planning, structuring, and negotiating a private real estate transaction; advising (and sometimes opining) as to compliance with the applicable land use controls; counseling and advocacy with respect to a private land use initiative requiring public agency action; negotiating with or mediating among the stakeholders in a public land use decision; negotiating and preparation of the documentation required in connection with all of these activities; and, in cases where the differences between stakeholders are not resolved through the public land use decision process, advocacy in litigation challenging a public land use decision. 

Beyond a knowledge of the law, land use practice requires a sensitivity to the different economic interests, planning goals, and political considerations of the stakeholders in the land use regulation process and an understanding of how they can shape public decisions; a recognition that land use regulation, particularly environmentally-based controls, often involves technical knowledge that requires retention of appropriate experts; and an understanding that public consideration of a land use action may be colored by the sometimes large economic consequences of a land use decision, by unstated but deeply felt concerns over change, and by competing visions of the future.

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