How to Convert Residential Zoning into Commercial Zoning


In recent years, there’s been a growing trend, especially in jam-packed cities, where residential property owners decide to convert their lot into a commercial zone.

Often, such an endeavor can be lengthy, convoluted, and expensive thanks to all of the bureaucratic red tape. To ensure that the venture is a success, it’s vital that you closely follow the rules and regulations of your municipality’s zoning board.

To help you with that, we’ll review the general steps for how to convert a residential zone into a commercial zone.

Zoning 101: A Brief Breakdown

Zoning is a city planning and engineering concept wherein different types of land usage are grouped into generalized categories, referred to as zones. There are five primary zones:

  1. Residential
  2. Neighborhood commercial
  3. Industrial
  4. Agricultural
  5. Recreational

Depending on the zone categorization, a piece of property will be limited to specific uses allowable on the land like maximum building height or minimum lot size. As the Small Business Chronicle notes: “Zoning ensures that residential areas are situated in a manner that provides enough space for homes, utility infrastructure, schools, and street development.”

Since the zone designation determines the potential uses for the land, a landowner can propose a use that isn’t technically allowed within that zone via the rezoning process. In that case, the proper applications, paperwork, and fees must be filed, then whoever the local hearing bodies are—be they the city council, planning commission, or county board of supervisors—must hold public hearings on the potential rezoning.

Transitioning from Residential to Commercial

So, how do you start the process to switch from a residential zoning plan to a commercial one?

For practically every city, the process will likely be slightly different due to the specific zoning rules and regulations. In most cases, zones are expected to be consistent with the general plan of the county or city. That said, some general steps you can take include:

  1. Research local zoning ordinances – Does the existing zoning accept residential in addition to commercial? If so, you could do an “As of Right,” conversion. If not, you have one of three options:
    • Apply for a special permit known as a zoning variance
    • Request rezoning
    • Keep the property as is
  2. Consider the community impacts rezoning could have – When the authorities consider a rezoning, they’ll assess the potential costs. But as the primary stakeholder of the project, you should conduct one before that, factoring in various concerns like:
    • The potential costs to rezone the property
    • The impacts it may have on a community, particularly the objections community members may bring up
    • The physical limitations to the property itself
  3. Hire a building inspector – As a follow-up to the previous point, a building inspector can help you inspect the property, identify potential problems, and determine whether it is worth the time, money, and hassle to change the zone.
  4. Attend zoning board meetings – Before you apply, consider attending zoning board meetings to get a lay of the land. Doing so will help you better understand who the key decision-makers are as well as possible issues you may have overlooked.
  5. Apply – If you’ve followed these steps and still want to go forward with the process, you’ll need to make a formal request. This entails filing the necessary paperwork and paying any fees. After this, you’ll simply have to wait to see whether the rezoning is accepted, rejected, or returned with requested changes to the proposal.

MFS Engineering—Rezoning Professionals

Do you need help converting your residential property into a commercial zone?

If so, the team at MFS Engineering can assist. Our team of experts can help with zoning analysis, site design and inspection, planning board, and zoning board processes, among other related tasks.

Want to discover more? Contact us today!