Use Permits

What is a Use Permit?

Both the County Board and the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) issue use permits, with similar but separate processes and requirements. Details about County Board use permits are below, and you can learn about the BZA process here, and further down in this section. Please note that if a use permit is approved, the project will proceed to additional County processes with different fees.

The County’s Zoning Ordinance distinguishes between uses permitted “by-right” and uses allowed by “special exception.” The use permit is one form of special exception. Use permits are required for land and building uses which step outside the rights of the Zoning Ordinance in some zoning districts. Additionally, these uses may need appropriate safeguards to have the best impact. The use permit offers a process for considering and approving such uses, subject to special conditions particular to the character of the use. These conditions assure that the use complies with all requirements and conditions of use permit approval.

County Board special exception use permit requests, beginning with the application process, are required to be scheduled for a public hearing before the County Board. The County Board meetings to consider use permit requests are generally held once a month. The Planning Commission may also hold a public hearing to consider use permit requests if the County Manager or the Zoning Administrator determines that the proposed use has sufficient impacts.

Types of Use Permits

The uses permitted in a zoning district are classified in two ways: by-right uses and special exception uses. By-right uses, which are specified in the Zoning Ordinance, do not require special permission. They simply require execution of the building permit process.

Special exemption uses are also specified in the Zoning Ordinance, but require an application and approval by the County Board. The application is required for these uses, services, and establishments. A special exemption use permit allows for certain land uses in a given zoning district that generally require a more in depth study than uses permitted by-right.

These are some of the more common uses for which Arlington County requires a special exception use permit.

Four Steps to the County Board Use Permit Process

  1. Completing the application
  2. Submitting the application to the county (instructions included in the application above) with appropriate fees (listed in Fee Schedules.) An associated fee is required for each use permit request to cover the cost of processing the application. The amount of the required fee is determined by the use being requested.
  3. Cases are assigned and reviewed by County staff
  4. Presentation at a County Board Meeting. Some cases may go before the Planning Commission first.

The application packet includes:

  • A checklist of  items that are required to be submitted with the application
  • An application
  • A statement describing the proposed use
  • A statement of consent if the applicant isn’t the property owner
  • A disclosure statement acknowledging ownership of the property to be used for the project. This statement must be notarized prior to submission.
  • An environmental assessment form (as required, dependent on the proposed use)
  • A site plan, floor plans, elevations, landscape plans, etc.
  • Any supplemental information that supports and/or further describes the request
  • Photographs of the site, buildings, etc. (as required)

Application submission:

Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to file all permit applications in accordance with the preliminary filing dates. Upon receipt of the use permit application, the Use Permit Team and the Zoning Office will review the application for completeness to determine if all of the items identified on the checklist are in place. If items are deemed missing the applicant will be notified by staff and given the opportunity to submit the information prior to the final filing date. If the required information is not submitted in a timely manner, the application is moved to the next available County Board meeting for consideration. Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact affected civic associations, homeowners associations, partnerships, and nearby residents/businesses prior to and following application submission.

Assignment and Review by Staff:

After the application is deemed complete and accepted by the Zoning Office, the Use Permit Team assigns the work to staff members in the planning office who then generate staff reports that are distributed at the public hearing. Affected civic associations, homeowners associations, near neighbors, partnerships, County Agencies and others are again notified and given a copy of the application package. The notification gives the date of the County Board Meeting and a date by which information would be needed by staff in order to be included in the staff report. These groups are encouraged to contact the assigned staff person with their input in a timely manner. Staff then prepares a report with a recommendation to the County Board.

County Board Meeting

At the County Board meeting, staff and the applicant may be requested to make a brief presentation. Others are permitted to speak as well, in support of or in opposition to the request. At the conclusion of the public hearing, the County Board makes a final decision on the applicant’s request. The County Board’s action can be in the form of the following:

  •     the request can be approved with conditions, denied, deferred, or
  •     the County Board can choose to take no action.

The hearing process from application submission to decision by the County Board takes approximately 68 days.

BZA Use Permit/Variance

The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) grants its own use permits and variances that modify requirements contained in the Zoning Ordinance with respect to physical location of improvements on a lot or parcel of land in particular zones, including setback and other placement requirements.

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