Business Licenses and Zoning Categories

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 Business Licenses and Zoning Categories

Governments, whether federal, state, or local, have jurisdiction over places of business. The government regulates how, when, and where a business can be run. Working through government regulations can be one of the most confusing elements of doing business, but it is critical for your business’s success.

Government agencies and departments may issue fines, impose penalties, or close down businesses that violate zoning ordinances or don’t comply with business licenses. Read on to discover everything you need to know about business licenses and zoning categories.

Zoning categories are very closely linked to the issuing of business licenses. In many cases, a business can only be operated in certain areas that are subject to specific types of laws known as zoning ordinances. Zoning ordinances basically define how property can be used within a clearly marked geographic area. For example, some sections of a city may be residential in nature, while others may be commercial.

Thus, a person or entity applying for a business license should also understand the zoning laws in the area where they wish to operate. Zoning laws often place restrictions on the business property, including the height of buildings, the permissible activities in the area, and the placing of structures on a given plot of land.

Failure to follow zoning laws can negatively affect the business operation and result in a denial or revocation of a business license.

What are the Common Types of Licenses and Permits?

The types of licenses or permits that a business may need depend on city, county, and state laws. Describe the kind of business you have in mind to your city or county government, and a worker will likely direct you to the proper forms and requirements. After you’ve cooperated with your local government, contact the state and federal agencies that apply to your business.

Some of the most common licenses and permits include:

  • Business licenses: Business licenses are the standard permits needed to operate a business locally. Business licenses are required of almost every business, no matter how big or small.
  • Home occupation permits: if your community has restrictions on home-based businesses, you may need a home occupation permit.
  • Miscellaneous local permits: To see if any miscellaneous local permits are required, contact your local Chamber of Commerce.
  • Police permits: Some businesses must have police clearance or permits. You may need a police permit if your business has an alarm system that calls the police when it goes off.
    Food permits: If you plan to make or sell food at your business, obtain a food permit first.
  • Seller’s permits: All businesses that sell taxable products in states with sales tax need a seller’s permit. There are some states that don’t have sales tax. The definition of a taxable product varies from state to state.
  • Building permits, fire certificates, and zoning permits: Check with your local planning department for any restrictions on the kinds of business activities that can be conducted within your zone. Some places restrict home-based businesses that operate in residentially zoned communities from having customers come to the place of business.
  • State occupational licenses: Certain occupations, like lawyers, doctors, general contractors, pre-schools, and daycares, require a special license. Consult your state agency for consumer affairs regulations.
  • Federal export licenses: If your business exports goods to other countries, your business will be subject to federal regulations. The federal Department of Commerce will provide you with more information. Optional certifications may help in some situations. You may want to be certified as a small, minority-owned, or disabled-veteran-owned enterprise.

Be sure to contact your local Small Business Development Center or other local economic development organizations for guidance on local, state, and federal issues.

What are the Most Common Zoning Categories?

Zoning categories define which types of businesses can operate in a certain area. Each city is zoned differently and may use different names for the types of zoning categories. The most common zoning categories usually include:

  • Residential zones
  • Commercial or “Business” zones
  • Industrial or “Manufacturing” zones
  • Agricultural zones

Zoning categories can be further subdivided into smaller, more specific categories. For example, a manufacturing zone can be subdivided into “Research,” “Light,” or “Heavy” manufacturing zones. Another common sub-category is the division of residential zones into single-family dwellings, apartments, mobile homes, etc.

Business licenses may be issued according to the zoning categories themselves. For instance, there may be separate business license for those connected with agriculture, manufacturing, small retail, restaurants, and so forth.

What are Zoning Symbols?

Zoning symbols are a municipality’s abbreviations to the different zoning categories. Again, the exact symbols may vary by jurisdiction. Some common zoning symbols include “A” for agriculture, “C” for commercial, R1 for single-family dwelling areas, R2 for two-dwelling areas, etc.

Zoning symbols may frequently be referred to in various forms and documents related to business license applications. The symbols may appear on the license itself or on signs posted in or outside a business building.

Thus, before setting up a business, one should engage in a thorough investigation of the way that zoning categories and symbols are arranged. An entire business plan may revolve around the acquisition of a plot of land in a certain area (like at a major intersection or near a body of water). The business plan might fall through if it turns out that zoning ordinances prohibit some business operations in that area.

What Can I Do About Zoning Regulations?

If zoning regulations have made your home-based business illegal, or if the restrictions are so restrictive that you can’t operate your business effectively, try one of the following approaches:

Request a variance: Government agencies and departments grant variances to rules and regulations on a routine basis. Oftentimes, you only have to fill out a short form. Other times, your request may have to be publicly heard before your city council, zoning board, or other governing body. Be sure to check with your zoning or planning department in your city to find out what options are available to you.
Take action against city hall: In some circumstances, you may have no other choice than to take action against the rules or regulations that restrict your ability to start or operate a home-based business. There are several approaches available to you, from contacting your district’s council members to lobbying for legislative changes to filing a lawsuit. The action you take should depend on your community’s political environment. If you have friends, relatives, or acquaintances who have dealt with city hall, consider asking what worked for them.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Business Licenses and Zoning Categories?

It is very important to understand the interaction between business licenses and zoning categories. At times, zoning laws can be very complex, with some zones being applied in some areas but not in others. Also, some areas in a city can be subject to a mix of different zoning categories.

Thus, you may wish to contact an experienced business lawyer for advice and guidance when setting up your business plan. Your attorney can help you with business planning and can also represent you in court if any legal disputes arise over a zoning law.


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