Zoning & Land Use

Regulating Development & Redevelopment of City Land


What is Zoning?

Zoning is the practice of dividing land into areas called zoning districts, each of which has specific permitted land uses and accompanying regulations. Some zoning districts may have a very specific permitted use, like a single unit residential district, and others may be more complex involving a mix of uses, like a downtown business district. The goal of zoning is to reduce land use conflicts and ensure that land is used for its best purpose. A classic example of why zoning is needed is that of the large factory next to the neighborhood of small houses. The two uses, industrial and residential, are not compatible and the resulting land use conflicts create an unsafe, unhealthy, and unpleasant situation. In another example, it might be inappropriate to build houses in a wetland area important to wildlife. To discourage development in a sensitive area like that, it might be zoned as a conservation district that prohibits new construction. You can see how land is zoned by looking at the Zoning Map which is linked at the bottom of this page. If you want to understand why land is zoned the way it is, you should check out the Comprehensive Plan by visiting the Community Plans page.

Types of Uses

Each zoning district in the Zoning Code has a list of principal, accessory, and authorized uses.  Principal uses are those that are allowed by default in the district and can be there without any special permission. Accessory uses are secondary uses that may be allowed along side a principal use, like a lawyer based out of their own house where the residential use is principal and the home-based occupation is accessory. Authorized uses are different. These uses are ones that can be appropriate alongside principal and accessory uses, but need to be reviewed by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). An example of that might be a medium sized daycare in a residential area. The BZA will want to ask questions about parking, outdoor play areas, and other details that may be of concern to surrounding property owners before voting to approve or deny the authorized use.

Special Use Permits & Changes in Zoning

When someone wants to locate a particular land use in an area where it would not normally be allowed, they have two options. One is to request a special use permit. These permits are reviewed by the Planning Commission  and then approved or denied by the City Council . Special Use Permits often have conditions attached to them and may only be valid for a limit time. They are also only granted to a specific person and do not remain in place if that person sells the subject property. The other option is to request a change in zoning. This is a more difficult process because staff will only recommend approval of zoning changes when they are compatible with the Comprehensive Plan. It is also different from a special use permit in that changes in ownership will not affect the changes in zoning district. The process is similar to that of a special use permit, however, and goes before both the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Variances & Non-Conformities

Now and then, unique circumstances can make it hard to comply with the Zoning Code. A parcel of land may be a strange shape, a set of old buildings may have inadequate setbacks, or a land use from a long time ago remains active even though the zoning today would not allow it. The Board of Zoning Appeals can review situations like these and make decisions about granting variances or allowing a non-conformity to continue. A common example is to request a higher fence height when adjacent properties are particularly disruptive. Another example might be the owner of a small commercial building in a residential area asking to continue use of the building as an office or low-traffic store. When you think you might need to get special permission for a unique circumstance, it is best to talk to staff and see if there are options that will not require you to get a variance. Staff are always happy to help people find a way to do what they want provided it will not create land use conflicts or disadvantage adjacent property owners.

Signs

The Zoning Code does not address signs directly. The City has a separate Sign Ordinance that regulates all signage. The Board of Zoning Appeals, however, is empowered to approve or deny variance requests to the Sign Ordinance. That ordinance is linked at the bottom of this page. You may need to pull a permit for installation of a sign and will need staff to review your proposal. Other information about signage can be found on the Inspection Division's sign permit page.

Subdivisions

If you own a large parcel of land and want to divide into two or more smaller parcels, that is called a subdivision. Depending on the details, a subdivision can be minor or major and subject to different types of review and regulation. The Zoning Code does not directly address subdivision, but zoning is an important thing to consider when pursuing a subdivision and is handled by the same staff. A separate Subdivision Ordinance regulates this process and is linked at the bottom of this page. There is not an application you need to fill out for subdivisions, but you will need to submit a subdivision plat prepared by a licensed land surveyor for staff to review.

Common Questions

What are the rules for putting up a fence around my yard?

In residential areas, front yard fences can be four feet tall and rear yard fences can be six feet tall. The front yard starts at the front corners of the house, but not necessarily the front corners of a closed in front porch. Fences can be built out of any standard material like wood, metal, or vinyl, but cannot be built out of scrap materials or recycled items. Fences in business and industrial areas may be subject to slightly different rules depending on the circumstances.

What are the rules for putting up a garage?

A detached garage is an accessory building and needs to be in the side or backyard. At a minimum, it has to be three feet from the side yard property lines, six feet from the backyard property line, six feet from the house, and be no taller than fifteen feet. The setbacks are measured from the roof edges and the height is measured to the top of the roof peak. The garage also needs to be smaller in floor area than the house and take up no more than thirty percent of the backyard. If you want to build an attached garage, you need to meet the same setbacks you would for any building addition.

Can I operate a business out of my house?

Minor home occupations where customers or clients do not come to the house do not need any special permission to operate. Major home occupations where customers or clients do come to the house must be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals as an Authorized Use.

Where on my property can I park my boat, trailer, or camper?

Vehicles like these need to be parked in a side or backyard on an improved surface like concrete or asphalt.  If you need to have them in the front yard for a short period of time, they can only be there for twenty-four hours twice in any consecutive seven-day time period and only for loading and unloading. Those two twenty-four-hour periods much also be separated by at least a thirty-hour time period.

Codes, Maps, and Application Forms

Application Fees

Item

Fee

Special Use Permit

$100

Rezoning for Less Than One Acre

$200

Rezoning for One Acre or More

$300

Variance for One- and Two-Unit Residential Properties

$125

Variance for All Other Properties Less Than One Acre

$150

Variance for All Other Properties One Acre or More

$175

Minor Subdivision

$50

Major Subdivision of Properties Less than One Acre

$100

Major Subdivision of Properties One Acre or More

$150