Zoning and Your Business Location

Zoning and Your Home Business

Zoning and Zoning Types
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What is Zoning? 

Zoning is the process of planning for land use by a locality to allocate certain kinds of structures in certain areas. Zoning codes also include restrictions in different zoning areas, such as height of buildings, use of green space, density (number of structures in a certain area), use of lots, and types of businesses.

Zoning codes and permits regulate land use, protect property values, and remove incompatible uses from residential areas. 

Zoning Types

As you look for business locations, keep in mind the different types of zoning you may encounter. Knowing how a property is zoned can help you avoid problems and give you information to help you seek changes.

First, note that within each type of zoning there are sub-categories. In Residential zoning, for example, you might find different zoning codes for single-family dwellings, four-plexes, or larger apartment complexes. The designations for these subcategories vary by community.

Here are the major types of zoning in the U.S.:

  • Residential
    • Residential zoning is for individual family units or groups. It includes single-family homes, duplexes, condominiums, trailer parks, and apartments. If the building you want to use for your business is zoned "residential" you will need to get a variance to use the property for business purposes.
  • Commercial
    • Commercial property includes almost everything that is not residential, from offices to retail stores, to shopping malls and strip malls, to bars and nightclubs. Most professional offices are zoned commercial.
  • Industrial
    • Industrial zoning is for manufacturing and warehousing operations.
  • Historic
    • Historic zoning is used for buildings are areas that have historic value. Many of these properties are designated as "historic landmarks" by the National Register of Historic Places. If you want to use one of these properties for a business, you will have to adhere to the requirements for changing and using these properties.
  • Agricultural and Rural
    • These two zoning types regulate land used for farms and ranches, limiting the non-farm use.

    Other Zoning Restrictions

    But zoning isn't just for the type of building or the type of business that is in a specific area. Zoning regulations also restrict other details. For example, you might find restrictions on: 

    • Placement of the building on the property. Some zoning restricts the distance of the building from the curb or other lot lines. These are sometimes called setbacks. 
    • Signage. Some cities restrict the type, size, and placement of signs. Even McDonald's has to bow to these requirements. 
    • Location of utility lines. 
    • Size and height of buildings. Some localities restrict high-rise buildings. Washington, D.C., for example, has a restriction on the height of buildings that was passed in 1910. Originally, buildings couldn't be higher than the Capitol, but this restriction was amended later. 
    • Use of the building. A Victorian home might fit in with the neighborhood, but if it's used for a bed and breakfast, this may violate zoning regulations of the city.

    Zoning and a Home Business

    As noted above, zoning laws are set up by cities to protect property owners and to maintain the value of their property. In a secondary sense, the owners of property with higher value don't want disturbances and unsightly buildings next to their valuable property. 

    Home based businesses need to be aware of zoning requirements for the specific locality. In some cases, depending on your business type, you may not be able to locate your business in your home. For example, if you have a business that has customers coming to your home, that may not be allowed by the city or town. 

    Before you locate your business in your home, check the zoning requirements of your location. You may need to get a variance to allow you to operate your business from home. 

    How to Get a Zoning Permit or Variance

    Before you locate a business anywhere, including your home, check with your city or town to see if you will need a zoning permit or variance. The process usually involves filing an application, having it reviewed by a local board, and sometimes taken before city or town council. The process for a home business may also involve polling current residents to get their approval.