Zoning Services

A review of zoning information is a vital part of the due diligence process during a commercial real estate transaction. MKA provides zoning services across North America through our dedicated in-house division. Whether a single site, or portfolio transaction, our Team stands ready to provide zoning information to fit our clients’ needs.

Sample Zoning Report

General Zoning Related Terms


Zoning is a system of developing a city or county plan in which various geographic areas (called zones) are restricted to certain uses and development such as: industrial, light industrial, commercial, light commercial, agricultural, single-family, multi-unit residential parks, schools and other purposes. Zoning is typically the main planning tool of local government to guide the future development of a community, protect neighborhoods, concentrate retail business and industry as well as channel traffic. Zoning plays a major role in the enhancement of urban as well as small towns. In practice, zoning also is used to prevent new development from interfering with existing uses and/or to preserve the character of the community. In 1926 zoning was declared constitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court.

Comprehensive Plans

Some jurisdictions express its goals in a Comprehensive Plan, sometimes a twenty-year +/- vision which must be reviewed/approved. These documents are important for communities that wish to shape their own future. The plans are intended to guide local policy on proposed developments.  Most Comprehensive Plans will include a Future Land Use Map, showing where various kinds of land use will be encouraged.

Zoning Ordinance

While the comprehensive plan serves as a guide, the zoning ordinance actually dictates how land is to be used. The zoning ordinance expressly states what a landowner is and is not allowed to do with their property, according to the zoning district in which the property is located. Zoning districts specify the types of land uses allowed in a given area, such as conservation, agricultural, residential, business, mixed or industrial uses.

Subdivision Ordinance

Subdivision ordinances control the manner in which subdivisions are laid out. Subdivision ordinances also control the dimensions of lots, the utilities required to serve lots and parcels, sight distance for entrances, frontage improvements to existing roads and so forth.

Special Use and Exception Permits

Typically required in all zones for any development that requires a site development plan and is requesting approval of a special permit for the following:  a modification to parking ratios, yards, landscape or open space requirements; increased building height and increased Floor Area Ratio; affordable housing bonus density or other special requirements listed in the applicable zone as outlined in the Zoning Ordinance. 


A variance is to vary certain requirements of the Zoning Ordinance where, due to special conditions of the property, strict enforcement of the Ordinance would effectively prohibit reasonable use of the property.  A variance is usually through a public hearing process so the public has an opportunity to state their concerns.


A re-zoning is a change to the boundaries of the established zones mandated by the official zoning map, initiated by local jurisdictions or an applicant who has a legal interest in the property that wants to build something that might not be allowed in that particular zone.


An encroachment into public space is an intrusion by a private entity into a public street, alley, sidewalk or other right of way. Some examples of encroachments include fences, storage units, parking, outdoor seating at restaurants, or even extensive landscaping in the public right of way.  If an encroachment is to be allowed as part of the site development (preliminary plan and/or site plan), it typically must be approved by the county and city and included in the proffers or it would be considered an encroachment violation into that developed public space.

Floor Area Ratio (FAR)

Floor area of a building is the sum of all total horizontal areas under a roof. Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is the total gross floor area of a building divided by the area of the parcel of land on which it is located. Some jurisdictions may allow a different calculation depending on zone.

Height Regulations

StructuralHeight regulations vary depending on the zoning of a particular area and may have a formulae to calculate an approvable height.

Parking Requirements

Parking requirements vary for different types of businesses and for different locations within a county/city. If you cannot meet the parking requirements for your particular use and location, you may be able to apply for a Special Use Permit for a parking reduction.


Setbacks means a horizontal distance on a lot/parcel measured at a right angle from the front, side and rear of the property lines to the nearest main wall of a principal building or structure.  A setback ratio is the ratio of the horizontal distance between the edge of a building or structure and the nearest building or the center line of a street or alley to the height of the building. Setback requirements vary depending on the zoning of the location of a business.

Zoning Conformance

“Legal Conforming” basically means the property conforms to current zoning standards meeting the zoning district use, area, setbacks, height and parking requirements in accordance with the most recent zoning ordinance appropriate to the site.  “Legal Non-Conforming” is more or less the opposite where jurisdictions have different rules that may govern these types of projects and often require jurisdictional approval.  “Grandfather” is a term often used when a property does not meet current requirements and is granted approval. There are times when there are restrictions placed on the property (example, if the building burns down you will have to meet current zoning to rebuild).