Every business type is governed by zoning regulations that determine where it can and cannot be built. For example, there are strict zoning requirements regarding adult stores and schools; few parents want their children walking past explicit content every day, so these businesses cannot be located within a certain distance of a school. However, zoning also applies in business and residential areas and can be federally mandated or regionally specific. Keep reading to learn what small businesses need to know about zoning in Colorado before buying that perfect property.

Learn Your Zoning Area

Before setting your heart on a specific area and location, check the relevant zoning limitations to see what you can and cannot build there. There are six common zoning designations to be aware of:

  • Residential: No commercial buildings are allowed, but some home-based businesses are excused.
  • Commercial: Most businesses are allowed to build.
  • Historical: Homes and businesses are allowed, but all properties have to maintain the integrity of the structure, and changes are restricted.
  • Aesthetic: Businesses are allowed but must follow specific design guidelines.
  • Industrial: Businesses with higher noise, traffic, and waste are allowed.
  • Agricultural: Farm and agricultural use is allowed.

Each of these zoning designations has its own pros and cons. A brew pub or skate park might want to move into a particular part of town, but historical or aesthetic regulations might prevent the business from painting the building or letting local artists create murals featuring graffiti. Similarly, designation-specific rules can prevent businesses from opening industrial parks that would otherwise lead to 18-wheelers chugging through residential areas and tiny downtown districts.

Know Your Site-Specific Requirements

The goal of zoning laws is to protect the property values of an area's land and buildings while creating a safe and comfortable experience for local residents. This is often why bars and nightclubs tend to be located close to one another. Along with property-type restrictions, there are regional and location-specific zoning laws that limit how businesses can be built.

  • Size development: While commercial use may be allowed, there can be restrictions on the number of stories or footprint of the business. Otherwise, a new skyscraper might block the view of a lake or mountain, reducing the property value of the buildings behind it.
  • Basement development: Some areas (particularly those that are prone to flooding) have limits on digging into the ground to create basements and cellars. This is both an insurance and structural liability for the developer and business owners.
  • Aesthetic specifics: Certain neighborhoods limit signage, fence height or type, and colors used by local business. This affects how the brand is displayed but is meant to protect the community's appearance. Such seemingly small details can greatly affect your business and thus are important to understand before you lease or purchase property.

Be Aware of Home-Based Business Laws

Colorado Zoning Laws for Small Businesses

Image via Flickr by NCinDC

Most small business owners start out in their own homes. It's easy to set up shop where you live while saving money to rent a brick-and-mortar location. Some home businesses, such as online stores and Etsy shops, never have to worry about violating zoning laws, as their work doesn't affect their neighbors. However, there are four zoning restrictions to follow if you're planning to work out of your house.

  • Physical restrictions: These limit exterior changes for storage, promotion, and operation of your business.
  • Traffic restrictions: Many zoning laws list the number of customers and employees allowed at a time.
  • Nuisance restrictions: These prevent annoyance to the neighbors.
  • Business restrictions: Certain business types are not allowed in residential areas.

For example, a homeowner might consider turning his or her house into a venue for parties and weddings. However, this could be illegal depending on local zoning laws, because it might cause parking and traffic congestion, noise throughout the night that could be a nuisance to neighbors, and nightlife business types that the area isn't zoned for.

Researching Zoning on a County and City Level

Colorado follows federal zoning regulations and also allows counties and cities to create their own specific ordinances. These rules are based on each community's needs, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution to regional zoning. Check out the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to learn more about your county and city and to find resources for researching and complying with zoning regulations. You might also choose to consult with a zoning attorney or small business attorney who has expertise in Colorado zoning laws.

Knowing what you can and can't do with a given property can save you several headaches when setting up your business. It will also help guide you toward smart renting and purchasing decisions. It's always better to be proactive with real estate regulations than risk facing the fallout from being on the wrong side of the law.