Land Use & Zoning 101

So you’ve decided to open a business. Congratulations!  But before you move any further, have you thought about whether you can actually open your business on the land you have your eye on?  Unfortunately, you can’t just open up shop anywhere you want to since your county, city or town has rules in place that dictate what type of business can go where and how that business can operate. Read ahead for the basics on what zoning and land use regulations can mean for you and your business.

What are zoning regulations?

Basically, “zoning” is the regulation of the development and use of real estate. Land Use & Zoning regulations are used by county and municipal governments to control how property is developed and used within their borders.

In general, the main purpose and function of land use designations is to divide cities and towns into residential, commercial, and industrial zones. Each piece of land is separate, but the use of the property within each designation is similar. Think about it, have you ever seen a big factory right in the middle of a small suburban neighborhood? Probably not.

Zoning districts then provide for the regulations of uses within the land use designation.  For example, a single-family neighborhood will have different use and design regulations than a mulfi-family neighborhood and that of a commercial district.  .

The 3 Types of Zoning


  • Residential


Residential zoning is perhaps the most straightforward of all the zone options. It includes just what you think it would: homes. To put it more formally, residential zoning includes single-family residences, apartments, duplexes, trailer parks, etc

In terms of businesses, residential zoning does allow for some that are home-based. The kinds allowed might depend on any number of things from the hours of operation, to parking, delivery, and noise concerns. Sometimes zoning ordinances prohibit all kinds of in-home business in residential areas so you also have to watch out for that! Others might just restrict the type of business and its hours, as well as requiring separate parking and entrance areas.


  • Commercial


Commercial zoning usually has several categories and depends upon the actual business use of the property and the number of people expected to be patronize it. Almost any kind of real estate can be zoned as commercial. Examples include office buildings, shopping centers, clubs, hotels, warehouses, and even vacant land.


  • Industrial


Industrial zoning is similar to commercial zoning because what is allowed depends on the type of business. Environmental factors like noise and pollution are used in making those kinds of determinations. Standard examples of what you’ll find in this district are manufacturing plants and storage facilities. This type of zoning can also depend upon the amount of “lot coverage”— the land area covered by all buildings on a lot—and building height.

Although these are the three main types of zoning, there are several other kinds as well like agricultural and rural —all of which have their own specifications and requirements. There can also be special district or overlays on the zoning district that may impose additional use and/or design restrictions such as historic regulations affecting structures built prior to a certain date.  

Reviewing the applicable land use & zoning designations is key prior to signing a new lease or purchasing a building or office condo for your business.  It is also possible that the use you are intending to have will require a special approval from the county/municipality that may add 4-6 months to your opening.  Parking requirements for a medical practice will be very different that of a law office.  Or perhaps you will need a waiver for a setback because you have a irregular lot or perhaps you will need to request a variance on a height restriction to allow an a/c cooling unit on the roof past the existing height restriction.  

Figuring out the land use and zoning designation for a property can be confusing and the process for obtaining the required approvals, overwhelming. Ser & Associates is experienced in land use and zoning matters helping business owners get started on the right foot. So, if you’re looking to open a business, don’t hesitate to contact us today at 305-222-7282.