The concept of zoning is the process of separating the land into various zones, which permit specific uses and prohibit others. This process can be time-consuming and costly for commercial property developers and investors. Usually, areas are divided into different types of properties, such as single-family homes, multi-family homes, industrial facilities, and agricultural land. However, overlaps can occur in high-density areas.

Unlike residential zoning, commercial zoning regulations regulate the design and structure of commercial properties. These include office parks, shopping centers, and apartment buildings.

Commercial Zoning Considerations

The floor area ratio, also known as the FAR, is a measure of the total square footage of a building compared to the total area of a given parcel of land. For instance, if a building has 3,000 square feet on each floor, then the total floor area of the building would be 3,000.

Unlike the floor area ratio, lot coverage does not consider height and density. For instance, if a given land parcel has a 1-story building and a 10-story one, the lot coverage for the former would be the same.

The parking ratio is a measure of the number of parking spaces that a given commercial property has compared to its gross leasable area. Cities and counties require specific buildings to have a parking ratio of 5, while industrial facilities can only have a parking ratio of 2.

Fire escapes and exits are also essential safety features in commercial buildings. However, since these features can vary depending on the municipality and the type of building, larger commercial structures often require more planning and resources to comply with local regulations.

Specifics by Property Type

Although it’s essential to understand the general residential and commercial zoning regulations, each property type has its own unique considerations.

Multi-family Units:

Generally, residential zones are divided into two categories: single-family and multi-family. In most cases, single-family zones only allow single-family homes, while multi-family zones permit both multi-family and single-family properties. Although some municipalities allow multi-family buildings with more than five units, others consider these buildings commercial properties since they are profit-generating businesses. Density and height restrictions are just a couple of things to be aware of in multi-family zones.

Industrial Properties:

Although residential and commercial properties can often be mixed, industrial zones are typically segregated and are further away from urban areas. Although most industrial zones do not allow commercial establishments, some exceptions are made. For instance, if a developer wants to build a gas station in an industrial zone, they can usually obtain a special permit.

Light industrial properties mainly involve packaging, some manufacturing, and distribution. These zones are closer to residential and commercial areas since they are less loud and produce less pollution.

Heavy industrial properties mainly involve mining, power production, and chemical manufacturing. Due to their nature, these facilities are subject to regulations that consider the effects of their operations on the surrounding environment.

Airport properties are also subject to different regulations due to their size and operations.

Retail Zones:

Retail zoning is not as challenging as industrial zoning. However, it still requires specific regulations to operate in the same area, especially for certain types of businesses. Aside from retail establishments, adult entertainment establishments, bars, and liquor stores are also subject to different regulations. In some states, liquor stores and bars must be at least 300 feet away from schools and churches. All public-facing businesses must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.