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When Does My Business Need a Zoning Permit or Variance?


Question: When Does My Business Need a Zoning Permit or Variance?

Zoning is the process of planning for land use by localities (cities, towns), to keep different land uses separate. Zoning is structured into several zoning types, including residential, retail, and various levels of commercial use.


When you find a location for your business, either to build, buy or lease, you may find that the location has been zoned a different type than is allowed for your type of business. For example, you may want to operate a retail or service business in an area that is zoned residential (for homes only). In this case, you may need a zoning permit or you may need to go to the local board and request a variance (exception) to the current zoning type, in order to open your business.

A zoning permit may be needed in a number of situations which might change the zoning classification of the property, including:

  • If you are engaging in construction or alteration of a building that might change its classification
  • If you intend to change the use of an existing building to a use of a different zoning classification
  • If you want to build a structure on vacant land
  • If you want to change the use of land to a different zoning type
  • If you make any change in a nonconforming use. That is, you make a change to a structure that had previously been "grandfathered" from complying with current zoning requirements.

A competent commercial real estate agent, building contractor, or leasing consultant can help guide you through the process of obtaining a zoning permit or variance. The zoning or planning board must give you the permit or variance before you can begin construction or use the building for business purposes.

If you are planning to start a home based business, you may have to get a zoning permit or variance, depending on the type of home business you are conducting. Check with your locality and let them know you plan to start a home business and abide by their requirements.

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