Conditional use permits (often simply called CUPs) are designed to allow flexibility within the zoning laws. A zoning ordinance cannot account for every situation. Allowing this exception gives the zoning authority discretion to allow uses otherwise prohibited in the specific district for the benefit of the neighborhood.

A conditional use permit is commonly granted to add commercial, education, or religious services to residential zones. Churches, schools, and small or home-based businesses in residential neighborhoods are all products of the conditional use permit. They require conditions, however, because in their absence the use could negatively impact nearby properties.


Let’s say that a gas station is requesting to build in an area that is zoned for residential. There are open lots right before the start of the subdivision which means that every resident will pass the gas station on the way to their homes. The gas station will be selling gas, have a convenience store and a restaurant attached. The location is right off the highway and it will be open 24 hours per day.

During the detailed due diligence investigation phase of the project, zoning research is conducted to determine if the proposed use is permissible for that zone. It is during this stage that civil engineers explore with city planners to determine the avenues that the gas station may take to move the project forward.

Conditional use permits are given at the discretion of the city, and each city has its own list of criteria that must be met. If the property owner does not meet the conditions agreed upon, the CUP can be revoked.

City planners will consider the combability of the gas station with its surrounding areas. They will look at noise, traffic flow, lighting, type of signs, drainage, and other factors that may affect the area. If the city planners determine that a gas station is authorized in that zone, they may require that the gas station closes at 10:00pm or use certain signage to minimize adverse effects on the community.

Potential Criteria for Approval

Every city evaluates the impact of the proposed conditional use and its compatibility with surrounding properties and residential areas with its own set of criteria. Below are some of the most common considerations:

  • Conformance with applicable regulations and standards established by the zoning ordinance.
  • Compatibility with existing or permitted uses on abutting sites, in terms of building height, bulk and scale, setbacks and open spaces, landscaping and site development, and access and circulation features.
  • Potentially unfavorable affects [effects] or impacts on other existing or permitted uses on abutting sites, to the extent such impacts exceed those which reasonably may result from use of the site by a permitted use.
  • Location, lighting, and type of signs, and relation of signs to traffic control, and adverse effect on adjacent properties.
  • Safety and convenience of vehicular and pedestrian circulation in the vicinity, including traffic reasonably expected to be generated by the proposed use and other uses reasonable and anticipated in the area considering existing zoning and land uses in the area.
  • Incorporates roadway adjustments, traffic control devices or mechanisms, and access restrictions to control traffic flow or divert traffic as may be needed to reduce or eliminate development generated traffic on neighborhood streets.
  • Compatible with and preserves the character and integrity of adjacent developments and neighborhoods and includes improvements either onsite or within the public rights-of-way to mitigate development-related adverse impacts, such as traffic, noise, odors, visual nuisances, drainage or other similar adverse effects to adjacent development and neighborhoods.
  • Fails to reasonably protect persons and property from erosion, flood or water damage, fire, noise, glare, and similar hazards or impacts.
  • Fails to provide adequate off-street parking and loading facilities.
  • Fails to conform with the objectives and the purpose of the zoning district in which the development is located.
  • Will be detrimental to the public health, safety, or welfare, or materially injurious to properties or improvements in the vicinity, for reasons specifically articulated by the commission.

Alternatives to a Conditional Use Permit

Even if a conditional use permit is not right for your situation, there are several alternatives that may help you put your property to use:

  • Rezoning
  • Variances
  • Development agreements



What is a Conditional Use Permit and What is the Criteria?