The struggle between government regulation of land use and the right of property owners to use their land freely is as old as our nation. The federal, state, and local governments (down to school districts) regulate land use through statutory law. Through these statutory powers, governmental entities can take a range of actions that affect private ownership. Ultimately, the form that governmental regulation takes dependents on which level of government is taking the action. The Federal government, for example, can use various federal acts to limit the type of use for particular types of land. A good example is using the Federal Environmental Protection Act to designate specific areas as protected. State governments use state laws to regulate land use, and local governments regulate land use through zoning ordinances. These zoning ordinances can be as generic as designating areas as residential, commercial, and industrial, or as specific as to target particular areas that the government needs for specific projects.
Another important conflict results from land use disputes between private property owners and the government acting as a steward of the public interest. That is, when the interest of private landowners conflicts with that of the public, the government will sue on behalf of the public in civil court. These so-called nuisance cases usually involve activities by a business that affect the quality of life of surrounding communities.
The third type of land use conflict involves disputes between private property owners, usually adjacent ones, whose property interests clash. These cases usually involve easements, rights of way, joint or common ownership, etc. These types of disputes tend to be the most common and require significant resources to try to resolve.