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Use Permits Allow Flexibility in Zoning

Zoning is the separation of a municipality into districts and the application of different regulations in each particular district. Zoning regulations are generally divided into three types: those that divide a municipality into various land use designations; those that list the permitted uses within those designations; and those that regulate development standards.

In addition to the list of uses permitted in each zoning district, zoning ordinances provide for other uses that are not permitted as a matter of right, but which may be allowed by way of a use permit. Use permits are also sometimes referred to as conditional use permits. The use permit process provides flexibility to the zoning process. They provide the municipality with an opportunity to evaluate each proposed use as it relates to the surrounding uses and they allow the municipality to impose appropriate conditions on the use permit in order to achieve compatibility. Use permit approval is required for certain uses so that any potential detrimental effect can be reduced or avoided and potential conflicts in land uses can be prevented.

Applications for use permits are generally heard by either a zoning administrator or a zoning board (this could be a planning commission). The hearing must be noticed and the public must be given an opportunity to be heard. The zoning administrator/zoning board must apply the criteria or standards of approval for the use permit contained in the municipality’s zoning code. Generally, the criteria provides that the use will not impair the integrity and character of the zoning district and will be in the best interest and general welfare of the city.

As a condition of its approval of the use permit, the zoning administrator/zoning board may impose, specific conditions in order to mitigate adverse impacts related to the project. The zoning administrator/zoning board must issue written findings in support of the decision on the use permit.

The decision of the zoning administrator/zoning board to approve or deny a use permit may be appealed to a higher body- ultimately the City Council. Such an appeal also would require a noticed public hearing so that the public would have an opportunity to be heard.

The success of the use permit process depends on input from the uses surrounding the proposed location for the new use. Neighboring businesses or residents often write letters or attend the public hearing in order to voice their support for or concerns regarding the proposed use. Neighbors and staff suggest mitigation measures, which if imposed by the zoning administrator/zoning board, will ensure the new use is compatible with the existing uses.

Our firm is available to assist with the navigation of the use permit process.

Heather K. Whitham