Improve Your Commercial Property Listing by Understanding Zoning Laws

Cities grow and develop through a set of rules and regulations known as zoning. Commercial zoning laws control how a parcel of land may be developed, and it influences the types of activities that a business may conduct. It also regulates building features such as its height, size, design, setback from the street, signage, parking, and other specifics.

Why should you care about commercial property zoning?

Let’s face it; the topic of zoning for commercial property can be dry and boring. Doing a little research into “the bigger picture” of a piece of commercial property can aid real estate investors with the knowledge of how that land could be developed and knowing how the land around it could be developed in the future.

Whether you are scrolling through commercial property listings, interested in buying land in Austin Texas for multifamily housing, or you want to buy a ranch in Lubbock, the zoning will control the future plans for that commercial property.

Knowing zoning laws could impact a decision on whether to buy or sell a parcel of land so it is an important factor to consider for buyers and investors. Commercial real estate agents could use this information in the property listing as a point of interest.

How will surrounding commercial property be developed? Could a developer build a commercial 2-story office building? Could that land be used for a meat processing plant? Could it be used for a gas station? Is it marked as green space?

These questions can be answered if you understand a few basics of the zoning code.

What is Zoning?

Zoning code, or ordinance, generally consists of three main parts.

  • A map
  • Use table
  • Standards

A Map

A map outlines all the parcel boundaries and clearly shows which zone each parcel is in. The zones themselves are usually differentiated as commercial or residential, and by intensity, like low density or high density.

Cities can create their own zoning districts so they will vary slightly from city to city, but they all generally have the same basic types.

Residential - Residential property includes single-family homes, condominiums, and apartments.

Commercial - Commercial property is used for profit-generating businesses such as retail, restaurants, and hotels. Industrial - Industrial property is used primarily for general warehousing or factories designed to manufacture or store goods.

Open Spaces - These areas are parks and recreation areas, land dedicated for use by utilities, public and civic facilities for the community, and areas preserved from development.

Other areas are zoned for Special Purposes like agriculture, planned developments, transportation, airports, stadiums, and landfills just to name a few. There are also overlay zones where one zone lays over the top of other zones. This will have additional restrictions in the property development.

Being familiar with the map designation of a parcel of land is useful information to include on a commercial property listing as each zone has rules for its use and intensity.

Use Table

Each of the zones on the map is divided into sections, and each of these sections have a Use Table. The Use Table is the part of the zoning ordinance where all the juicy stuff is located. It gets specific about the kinds of activities that are permitted within each zone.

For example, on a parcel of commercial property, the Use Table may list a bakery as an allowed use but specify that an auto salvage yard is not an allowed use. It may specify if a gas station can be built downtown or if a day care can be built in a residential area.

Use Tables may also designate some uses as Permitted, Conditional, or Special Use. These activities are not immediately allowed, but they would be considered on a case- by-case basis with consultation and approval from the city.

Other commercial property may have mixed-use zoning which allows a mixture of residential and commercial.

Commercial property buyers or developers who have a specific dream for their property may need to do a littler research to see if there are additional hoops they need to jump through in order to allow a particular type of business activity.


Standards are the basic development requirements for things like building setbacks, minimum lot sizes, building heights. It sets the commercial property development standards. These standards regulate the form of the structures and outlines how specific elements must be used such as signage or other urban design criteria.

In summary

Zoning ensures that new development is built predictably and reasonably while minimizing impact to adjacent properties. For example, zoning ensures that an oil refinery cannot be built next to single-family homes.

You can help make zoning better for your community!

In order for the city to get an accurate assessment of what the community wants, property owners, business owners, and local investors should be knowledgeable of their city’s plans for commercial land development. The city may not get the full picture of how the community may feel about the development of certain tracts of commercial property for certain uses unless the community speaks up.

You can get the conversation started in your city.

Go to your city’s website. Look for something called “Planning Department” or “Community Development Department.” In most cities, the website will list upcoming meetings, and you can get involved in your local city council meetings understand the long-term plans for the commercial properties in the city.

You may learn of a zoning revision request that the city is considering for a parcel of commercial property. Perhaps the commercial land developer has submitted a request to change from one zone to another and thereby allow that land to be used for a different use. Or perhaps you and others feel that a zone needs a refresh.

The bottom line is, if you want your commercial property to be successful, you need a zoning code that makes it easy and simple (and legal) to build a great development project.

Zoning may sound like a boring place to start, but it literally determines how the city will grow, and what will be allowed to develop on the commercial property.

Author Info
Victoria K