Conditional Use Permits for Commercial US Property

by webforjason on July 17, 2013

  • Sumo

The conditional use permit grants the use of land that might not conform with existing zoning laws. It provides use of the land within specific limitations, e.g. those contained in the city’s ordinance. For these reasons, a conditional use permit is often quite restrictive. When the conditions of the permit are exceeded, the permit is invalid. For example, a child care center operates under a conditional use permit within an otherwise completely residential neighborhood. The small, low-key business of child care in the location cannot be shifted at will to a large daycare center. To do so would violate the conditional use permit.

Business development and the conditional use permit.

A town or city may decide that developing new businesses in a certain small area is desirable. Issuing conditional use permits to small businesses within a residential area can help the city to attract new businesses over time.

The town’s zoning board may approve a conditional use permit to a business in a residential area or in a tiny section of the neighborhood. Perhaps the business offered is in high demand within the neighborhood or provides an essential product or service. For example, the zoning board may approve a conditional use permit to a gasoline station in a city suburb with many commuters. The gasoline station is not in strict compliance with the zoning of the neighborhood, but the convenience of the business adds value to residents.

Similarly, the zoning board might approve a specialty grocer that matches the tone and feel of the neighborhood. Of course, the zoning board cannot and must not limit the extension of conditional use permits as a way of showing preference or favoritism to a business or family member. The zoning board must act carefully to ensure that residents’ and business interests are mutually served.

Greater scrutiny of the conditional use permittee.

According to author John P. Lewis (“Land Use Controls,” 2007), conditional use permits subject holders to higher level of scrutiny than other land use permits, e.g. “uses by right.” Often, the proposed business requesting the conditional use permit offers to meet many conditions in order to “fit the business into” the community. Occasionally, the petitioner offers to remodel or build a structure that causes the business location to blend in with surrounding neighborhood homes.

The petitioner of the conditional use permit sometimes appears before a public hearing, e.g. a legislative or planning commission. At the hearing, the petition may be fully approved or approved with conditions. In some instances, the petition is immediately denied at the first hearing. When the permittee’s request is approved with conditions, he/she must agree to them in writing. Some common conditions offered to the business in a public hearing include: signage; operating hours; building height or dimensions; minimum setback standards; parking; or required landscaping. Upon approval, the applicant may take the next step to apply for building permits and pay any fees that are due.

Jason Knapfel writes for Horenstein Law Group in Vancouver, WA.  This article is not intended to be legal advice.  Please consult Horenstein Law Group or your own council.




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