By Will Van Vactor
Zoning is the division of land into different districts for the purpose of controlling land use. For example, your home is probably in a residential zone, while your business or place of work is most likely in a commercial, retail, or industrial zone. Different uses are lawful in different zones. If you are relocating a business or looking to open a new business, it is important to understand how zoning may impact your plans.
First, you need to make sure your business is legal in the zone your want to locate your business. If you find an undeveloped lot in a residential area with high visibility and good access, it may be too good to be true. In most jurisdictions, a business (unless it is a home occupation) is not going to be lawful in a residential zone. Most governments have a land use ordinance that includes a list of lawful uses in each zone. Review this list (often presented in a table form) to see what is legal. For example, a list of allowed uses in Portland's commercial zones is in Chapter 33.130 of the City's Zoning Code.
Ideally, your business will be permitted "outright" under the governing land use ordinance, but if the use is allowed in the local code as a conditional use, you will hopefully be okay (it will just take some more work). Conditional uses are lawful uses, but will usually be subject to "conditions of approval." For instance, a retail store in a mixed-use zone may be legal, but the local government may require as a condition of approval that the owner screen the retail building from adjacent uses, provide adequate parking, etc. Conditional uses are usually more intensive and as such, are more likely to draw attention from concerned neighbors. As a result, you may have to defend your land use application at a land use hearing.
Other zoning issues may arise. For example, if you are moving into a building that has existing business tenants, do not get trapped thinking just because those businesses are there, your business can be too. It may be that the existing business is a lawful nonconforming use or a completely different type of business (subject to different review standards).
Many potential zoning issues (not to mention issues with other land use and environmental regulations) may arise when locating or relocating a business. Bottom line, get advice from your land use attorney before committing to a location. You do not want to buy land or sign a long-term lease just to find out your business is not legal on the property.
The information on this blog is for general informational purposes only. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.