- Zoning and Subdivision Ordinances Update project
- Purpose of Zoning Regulations
- Zoning Map and Regulations
- Zoning Verification Letter
- Variances and Appeals
- Rezonings, Special Use Permits, and Ordinance Amendments
Work on the City of Harrisonburg's Zoning and Subdivision Ordinances update project continues. Please visit the project webpage for more information.
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Purpose of Zoning Regulations
Zoning is the process of classifying land in a locality into districts and establishing in each district regulations concerning building and structure location and design and the uses to which land, buildings and structures may be put. The purpose of zoning is to promote the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the community, to protect and conserve the value of buildings, and encourage the most appropriate use of the land.
A locality’s zoning ordinance is a written regulation and law that defines how property in specific geographic zones can be used. Zoning ordinances specify whether zones can be used for residential or commercial purposes, and may also regulate lot size, placement, bulk (or density) and the height of structures. Zoning ordinances describe not only the acceptable use for specified areas of land but also the procedures for handling violations (including any penalties), granting variances and hearing appeals.
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Zoning Map and Regulations
Zoning Districs Map
The Zoning Districts map provides information on the location information of each zoning district. This link can also be used to find out what your property's zoning designation is.
The full text of the Zoning Ordinance is available here: Zoning Ordinance on the City Code website.
Below is a list of Zoning Districts. For specific regulations pertaining to each district and
- R-1 Single-Family Residential District
- R-2, Residential District
- R-3, Multiple Dwelling Residential District
- R-3, Medium Density Residential District
- R-4, Planned Unit Residential District
- R-5, High Density Residential District
- R-6, Low Density Mixed Residential Planned Community
- R-7, Medium Density Mixed Residential Planned Community
- R-8, Small Lot Residential District
- MX-U, Mixed Use Planned Community District
- MH-1, Manufactured Home Park District
- MH-2, Manufactured Home Subdivision District
- B-1A, Local Business District
- B-1, Central Business District
- B-2, General Business District
- M-1, General Industrial District
- I-1, Institutional Overlay District
- U-R, Urban Residential District
- R-P, Residential Professional (Overlay) District
The Zoning Ordinance also regulates:
- Off-Street Vehicular and Bicycle Parking
- Uses, Activities and Development within Floodplains - Floodplain Zoning District (also Floodplain Map)
- Wireless Telecommunication Facilities (on private property)
- Short-Term Rentals (Lodging)
- Home Occupation Permits for Home Businesses
- Sign Regulations
- Residential Occupancy Restrictions are summarized on the City's Tenant Rights and Resposibilities webpage
A zoning verification letter is a document provided by the City to verify the current zoning of a property. The letter can also confirm: whether the existing use is conforming to the Zoning Ordinance, the types of uses allowed in the specific zoning district, whether the property has received zoning variances, if the property is within a special or overlay district, if the property was developed with an approved site plan, if the property is in compliance with minimum parking requirements, and many other details. Depending upon the amount of the information requested, there could be a fee of $50.00. Typically, requests take one to two weeks to complete, but may take longer if the property has complex issues or nonconformities. Virginia Code Section 15.2-2286(A)(4) allows Zoning Administrators up to 90 days to respond to a request unless the requestor has agreed to a longer period.
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Individuals interested in deviating from the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance (not to include use changes) or interested in appealing a decision of the Zoning Administrator may request such action and apply to the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Variance and Appeals Applications
All files are in PDF format.
Zoning Variance Application [329KB]
Zoning Appeal Application [276KB]
Subject to the provisions of City Code Section 10-3-132 through 10-3-140 (Article W. Board of Zoning Appeals of the Zoning Ordinance), the board shall have the power to grant the following variances:
- A variance in the yard and lot area requirements in any district as to relieve practical difficulties or particular hardships in cases when a property owner can show that his property was acquired in good faith and where by reason of exceptional narrowness, shallowness, size or shape of a specific piece of property at the time of the effective date of the Zoning Ordinance or where by reason of exceptional topographic conditions or other extraordinary situation or condition of such piece of property, or the use or development of property immediately adjacent thereto, the strict application of the terms of the Zoning Ordinance would effectively prohibit or unreasonably restrict the use of the property, or where the board is satisfied, upon the evidence heard by it, that the granting of such variance will alleviate a clearly demonstrated hardship as distinguished from a special privilege or convenience sought by the applicant; provided, that all variances shall be in harmony with the intended spirit and purpose of the Zoning Ordinance.
- No variance shall be authorized by the Board unless it finds: that the strict application of this chapter would produce undue hardship, that such hardship is not shared generally by other properties in the same zoning district and the same vicinity, and/or that the authorization of such variance will not be of substantial detriment to adjacent property and that the character of the district will not be changed by the granting of the variance.
- No such variance shall be authorized except after notice and hearing as required by section 15.1-431 of the Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended.
- No variance shall be authorized unless the Board finds that the condition or situation of the property concerned or the intended use of the property is not of so general or recurring a nature as to make reasonably practicable the formulation of a general regulation to be adopted as an amendment to this chapter.
- In authorizing a variance the Board may impose such conditions regarding the location, character and other features of the proposed structure or use as it may deem necessary in the public interest, and may require a guarantee or bond to insure that the conditions imposed are being and will continue to be complied with.
An appeal to the Board may be taken by any person aggrieved or by any officer, department, board or bureau of the City affected by any decision of the Zoning Administrator, or from any order, requirement, decision or determination made by any other administrative officer in the administration or enforcement of the Zoning Ordinance.
Such appeal shall be taken within ten (10) days for a notice of violation involving temporary or seasonal commercial uses, maximum occupancy limitation of a residential dwelling unit, keeping of inoperable vehicles and junk, or similar short term, recurring violations, or within thirty (30) days after the entry of any other decision appealed from by filing with the Zoning Administrator, and with the board, a notice of appeal specifying the grounds thereof. The Zoning Administrator shall forthwith transmit to the recording secretary of the Board all the papers constituting the record upon which the action appealed was taken. An appeal stays all proceedings in the furtherance of the action appealed from unless the Zoning Administrator certifies to the Board, after the notice of appeal shall have been filed with them, that by reason of facts stated in the certificate of stay would, in their opinion cause imminent peril to life or property. In such case proceedings shall not be stayed otherwise than by a restraining order which may be granted by the Board or a court of record, on application and on notice to the Zoning Administrator and on due cause shown.
In any case where the Zoning Administrator has certified conformity with the provisions of the Zoning Ordinance and a building permit has been issued and construction of the building for which such permit was issued is subsequently sought to be prevented, restrained, corrected or abated as a violation of the Zoning Ordinance, suit may be filed within fifteen (15) days after the start of construction by a person who had no actual notice of the issuance of such permit. The court may hear and determine issues raised in the litigation even though no appeal was taken from the decision of the Zoning Administrator to the Board of Zoning Appeals.
How to Initiate a Variance or Appeal
An application to the Board for a variance or appeal may be made by any property owner, tenant, government official, department, board or bureau. Such application shall be submitted to the Planning and Zoning Division of the Department of Community Development. All information including maps and plans required by the application, or otherwise required by the Board in order that it might be fully informed, shall be furnished by the applicant. The matter shall be placed on the agenda for the next available Board meeting. Every variance or appeal shall be advertised for a public hearing in a newspaper published or having general circulation in the City. Applications require notice letters to be sent to adjoining property owners and the subject properties are posted advertising the request.
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Property owners who wish to use land for purposes other than what is allowed by-right under the current zoning law may apply to have their property rezoned to a different district, request a special use permit listed in their zoning district, or may request to have the text of the Zoning Ordinance changed to permit new or amended uses and regulations through a Zoning Ordinance amendment. Such requests can only be approved by City Council.
Applications for Rezonings, Special Use Permits, Ordinance Amendments
Files are in PDF format.
Rezoning Application [128KB]
Special Use Permit Application [104KB]
How to Initiate a Rezoning, Special Use Permit, or Ordinance Amendment
Requests may be initiated by the City Council on its own motion, or on recommendation by the Planning Commission, or by petition of the property owner or owners within the territory proposed. Such requests shall be filed with Planning staff in the Department of Community Development and presented to Planning Commission for recommendation and then to City Council.
Detailed information regarding the process of requesting such changes as specified above can be found in the Zoning Ordinance within Article U. Amendments and Changes.
Information on required submittals with each application is contained in the "Required Attachments" section at the bottom of the application files listed above.
Prior to submitting application(s) for rezoning, special use permit, or zoning ordinance amendment, applicants should schedule a pre-application meeting with City staff to discuss the proposal and City requirements. If the project requires a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA), then the pre-application meeting shall be held prior to the TIA scoping meeting.
For small projects, a meeting or phone call with just Planning staff could be sufficient and a determination can be made with Planning staff.
For larger projects and projects requiring a TIA, the pre-application meeting will include representatives from various city departments including, but not limited to, Community Development (Planning & Zoning, Engineering, Building Inspections), Fire, Public Works, Public Utilities, and Public Transportation. Applicants should contact Planning staff to request a pre-application meeting to occur on:
- On the second Thursday of the month, or
- On the fourth Thursday of the month.
Large pre-application meetings will be scheduled between 1-4pm, with each applicant team meeting with staff for up to one hour. Meetings can be in-person, virtual, or hybrid (both in-person and virtual). In preparation for the pre-application meeting, the applicant shall provide a “conceptual” or “preliminary” layout of their proposed development one week prior to the pre-application meeting. The layout should illustrate in general terms the characteristics of the proposal: location, types of uses, physical features of the property, adjacent roads, internal layout of structures, streets, and entrances.
Please contact Planning staff at the Department of Community Development at 540-432-7700 to schedule a pre-application meeting. Applicants may request more than one pre-application meeting.
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Proffered (or conditional) Rezonings
If a property owner decides to rezone, he or she may seek a traditional straight rezoning from one zoning classification to another or may apply for a conditional rezoning. Where competing and incompatible uses conflict, traditional rezoning methods and procedures could be inadequate. In such cases, the property owner may voluntarily impose conditions on the development of the property, which may make the project more acceptable to the community. These self-imposed limitations are often called proffers.
Prior to a public hearing, the property owner may submit a signed written list of proffers that would reasonably enhance the proposal, provided that:
- The rezoning itself must give rise to the need for the conditions;
- Such conditions must have a reasonable relation to the rezoning;
- Such conditions shall not include a cash contribution to the city;
- Such conditions shall not include mandatory dedication of real or personal property for open space, parks, schools, fire departments, or other facilities not provided for in the subdivision ordinance;
- No condition shall be proffered that is not related to the physical development or physical operation of the property; and
- All such conditions shall be in conformity with the comprehensive plan.
If City Council approves a rezoning request with proffers attached, the conditions shall remain in place until a subsequent amendment changes the zoning of the property; provided, however, that such conditions will remain in effect if the subsequent amendment is part of a comprehensive implementation of a new or substantially revised zoning ordinance.
Detailed information regarding proffered/conditional zoning can be found in the Zoning Ordinance within Section 10-3-123.
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Special Use Permits
Special permit uses are those which, if not specially regulated, may have an undue impact on or be incompatible with other uses of land within or adjacent to a given zoning district. These uses either have unusual characteristics, or have characteristics which may be different from those of their immediate surroundings. Upon the granting of a special use permit by City Council, these uses may be allowed to locate or expand within designated zoning districts under the standards, controls, limitations, performance criteria, restrictions and other regulations as specified in the Zoning Ordinance within Article V. Special Use Permits.
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Questions? Contact the Department of Community Development's Division of Planning and Zoning at 540-432-7700.