Zoning Guide

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This guide has been prepared by the Small Business Development Center hosted by Laurel Ridge Community College to assist small businesses understand the different zoning classifications in each of the localities we serve. Each jurisdiction uses slightly different names for its various zoning districts, but there are elements that are common to all. Zoning is an exercise of a jurisdictions police power and is intended to ensure compatibility of neighboring uses.

Major Zoning Categories

Essentially, properties in all jurisdictions are zoned for one or more of the following uses:

Single family residential
Multi-family residential
Commercial (i.e. retail)

Within the business categories the zoning districts are classified by the intensity of the uses allowed. For example, within the category of commercial there are different levels of zoning that range from small neighborhood shops to major regional malls and retail centers. Within the industrial categories, classifications generally differentiate between light and heavy industry. Light industry involves uses such as warehousing and contractors’ yards while heavy industrial typically allows manufacturing.

The rationale for this differentiation of uses is that compatible businesses should be located near one another. Another rationale is that those uses that create more negative effects such as pollution, noise, and traffic should be restricted to those areas that are farther removed from residential neighborhoods.

Special Zoning Categories

In addition to the general categories of residential commercial, commercial, office and industrial, most jurisdictions allow for special zoning districts in areas that are the focus of large public investment such as Central Business Districts and redevelopment areas. For example, much of the zoning in Central Business Districts allows a mixture of retail, office, and residential, often within the same structure. This is referred to as Mixed-Use Zoning.

Many localities also create special zoning districts for the waterfront. This may involve downtown areas, but also includes industrial areas, as well. The rationale for special waterfront zoning is often that there is a scarcity of waterfront property, and many industrial uses are water-dependent. This is sometimes a vehicle to ensure that waterfront-dependent industry is not forced out due to the pressures of residential development.

Zoning Overlay Districts

Many localities have what are referred to as Overlay Districts. These are special requirements that are placed on certain areas above and beyond the typical restrictions found within the underlying zoning district. Overlay districts do not replace zoning classifications, but rather place additional requirements on uses within these districts in order to protect the public interest. Typically, overlay districts involve such issues as:

Environmentally sensitive areas
Tourism areas
Protection of the public drinking water supply

This guide does not list every special zoning classification or zoning overlay district. To do so would result in more confusion than help.

Performance Standards

Within each jurisdiction’s zoning ordinance are usually listed “Performance Standards” that place additional requirements on certain types of businesses within each zoning district. Examples of such performance standards include such things as:

Whether or not outside storage is allowed
Whether or not roll-up doors can face a public street
Whether or not a traffic impact study is required

Landscape Ordinances

If you are planning to build a new structure there will also be a very specific landscaping requirements placed on your project. These landscaping ordinances vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from zoning category to zoning category. Specific requirements include requirements for a minimum number and size of plantings as well as what types of species are allowed.

Use Permits

Some uses are allowed within certain zones by right while others require what is known as a “Conditional Use Permit” or a “Special Use Permit”. These use permits are for uses that are viewed as creating possible impacts on their surroundings such that special approval is required by the City Council or Board of Supervisors (for counties). These governing bodies have the legal authority to impose additional conditions on use permit applicants. The approval process involves review by the Planning Commission and a non-binding recommendation by the Planning Commission to the governing body. Final approval rests with the governing body.


All jurisdictions in the region regulate business signs. Since signs are very expensive, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the sign regulations in the community. There are generally different requirements for free-standing signs and for building-mounted signs. Sign regulations also may vary from zoning district to zoning district. Typically, sign ordinances regulation such things as:

Maximum allowable square footage of signs
Maximum height of free-standing signs
Pole mounted vs. monument type signs

General Comments

In all instances, it is recommended that prospective businesses make an appointment and speak with a representative of the Planning Department in which they are considering a location. You will find the Planning staffs to be very professional and knowledgeable. When in doubt, ask.

For more city/county specific information on zoning regulations or restrictions please contact your local Department of Development or Department of Economic Development office.

Click here for link to specific localities:  https://lfsbdc.wpengine.com/resources/by-locality/