building owner sitting at a desk with glasses filling out conditional use permit paperwork

What Every Investor Should Know About Getting a Conditional Use Permit

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    Investors can’t just do whatever they wish with the land they own. You can’t buy a residential lot, for example, and construct an office building because the area isn’t zoned for that use.

    Zoning ordinances classify specific uses of a commercial property “by right,” “permitted with conditions,” or “prohibited.” “By right” is pretty straightforward, but once your property earns either of the other designations, there’s a legal process you’ll need to follow to get permission to use it in your intended manner. 

    This process involves the use of conditional use permits, which require municipal approval on a by-case basis. This guide will explain how a conditional use permit works and provide some tips to help you understand the process. 

    Overview of Conditional Use Permits

    A conditional use permit allows businesses to use land for a purpose that falls beyond its zoning. These permits authorize the city to grant an exception to its zoning laws, so the company doesn’t have to apply to have the land rezoned. 

    Conditional use permits are discretionary, so the property owner will have to appeal to the city for the right to use the land for its intended purpose, and approval often requires the owner to meet a set of conditions. The process can take a fair amount of time, but it remains quicker and easier than rezoning.

    Obtaining a Conditional Use Permit

    It’s a good idea to learn how the conditional use permit process works before beginning your application. You’ll likely have to appeal to city zoning officials so they can decide if your project is compatible with the surrounding area. The steps you’ll need to take include:

    Submitting the Necessary Documentation

    You’ll begin the process by drafting a letter outlining why your conditional use permit is necessary. The letter should include illustrations of your proposal, emergency fire plans, construction permits, and everything else required to complete your project. The letter must be delivered to the zoning administrator and chief building official to continue the process.

    Completing a Zoning Inspection

    The next step is to have a zoning inspection completed. This inspection ensures the property has suitable parking and loading requirements to keep the building accessible and safe. The Zoning Commission might create conditions after this inspection that the business must abide by before the conditional use permit is awarded.

    Receive a Review by Zoning Administrator

    The zoning administrator will then review the entire package and decide to approve or deny the request. The zoning administrator might also cover aspects like occupancy limits, temporary approvals, and alcohol provisions. The property is subject to inspection at any time while under a conditional use permit.

    Putting the necessary paperwork together and waiting for approval are significant parts of this process. There are some smaller steps you can take along the way that will increase your chances of receiving this permit. 

    Somone's desk layout

    7 Tips for Navigating the Conditional Use Permit Process

    Filling out the documentation and seeking regulatory approval are the main steps you’ll have to take throughout this process, but there are some details you’ll need to cover as well. Figuring out any issues ahead of time makes it more likely you’ll receive approval, maximizing the value of your real estate portfolio

    Do Your Due Diligence

    Completing a bit of research before beginning the process can make your life a lot easier. Look at past situations where the city has granted conditional use permits to search for parallels. You’re more likely to receive approval on a project that’s similar to past cases than you are when trying to blaze the trail yourself. 

    Gather Proof

    There could be a hearing with city officials at some point in the permit-obtaining process, and you might have to provide proof that your business plans won’t negatively impact the neighborhood. Speaking with neighbors, local organizations, and city council members can give insight into what others think and will allow you to address their concerns.

    Learn How the Decision Is Made

    A lot goes into making the final decision on your property, including noise levels, the state of the building, parking, fire protection, public spaces, and public access. It can improve your chances if you learn what the zoning administrator will consider and factor that into your initial application.

    Research the Appeal Process

    Not every application is approved, but that doesn’t have to end your dreams right away. There’s an appeal process you can use to address the reasons for the rejection. The great thing about an appeal is that it shows you exactly what you need to focus on for the next round of hearings.

    Stay Proactive

    Keep in mind that you’ll need a new conditional use permit to continue operating at that location if you change how you’re using the property. Investors should keep this information in mind when moving new tenants into a building, because the type of business they’re operating could influence the state of the conditional use permit. 

    Transferring the Permit

    You’ll need to ask if the permit is transferable when investing in a property. Doing your due diligence here can save you from fines if it turns out the building isn’t zoned for how a new tenant wishes to use it.

    Get Some Help When Needed

    There are many aspects to cover when seeking a conditional use permit, and handling the application yourself isn’t always feasible. Seeking the assistance of an industry professional can ensure you have up-to-date information and are following the correct process. 

    Obtaining a conditional use permit can take some time, because you’ll need to handle the legal aspects and might have to finish some renovations before receiving final approval. The effort could be worth it in the end, though, because you can avoid the tedious process of petitioning to rezone the property. 

    Receiving Expert CRE Advice on Your Conditional Use Permit

    There’s a lot for property investors to consider when a conditional use permit might be the key to attracting tenants and turning a profit. It’s a considerable amount of work to get one, though, and requires legal assistance along the way. 

    The Genau Group has an expert investment sales and acquisition team that provides the knowledge you’re seeking in the Washington, D.C., area. We can assist by conducting expert research before you make an investment and doing an analysis of the codes and permits required when operating a property. Contact our team today to speak about your commercial real estate investment needs.