How do I understand permitting requirements if I am opening a physical store location?

October 12, 2023

Navigating zoning and permitting requirements can be a complex and time-consuming process, but it's a critical step in ensuring the legal operation of your small business. Start this process well in advance of opening your business at a new location, as it can sometimes take several months to secure the necessary approvals and permits. Here are the steps you can take to navigate zoning and permitting requirements:

Research Local Zoning Regulations:

Start by researching the zoning regulations for the specific location where you plan to open your business. Zoning laws dictate how different areas can be used (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial) and the types of businesses that are allowed in each zone.

Contact the Local Planning or Zoning Department:

Get in touch with your local planning or zoning department. They can provide you with information about the specific zoning classification of the property you're interested in and whether your type of business is allowed in that area. Most planning and zoning departments are located in City Hall. In many cases you can walk in and speak with someone immediately. In other cases you will need to make an appointment. Speaking with a City Planner will help you understand if the location if you are interested is suitable for your type of business and what permits you will need to legally open at your potential location.

Determine if Your Business is Permitted:

Once you know the zoning classification, check if your business type is permitted "by right" in that zone. Some businesses may require special permits or variances, while others might be prohibited. Again speak with a City Planner.

Identify Special Permits or Variances:

If your business is not allowed "by right" in the chosen zone, find out what special permits or variances you may need. This often involves applying for conditional use permits or zoning variances, which may require public hearings and approval from local authorities.

Check for Zoning Restrictions:

Zoning regulations may have specific restrictions on your business, such as signage, operating hours, noise levels, or parking requirements. Ensure that you understand and can comply with these restrictions.

Visit the Property in Person:

Visit the property you are considering and inspect it to ensure it meets your business needs and that there are no obvious zoning violations.

Review Building Codes:

In addition to zoning regulations, review local building codes and regulations to ensure that the property is suitable for your intended use. Building codes address safety, construction standards, and accessibility requirements. City Planners can help with this.

Submit Permit Applications:

If special permits or variances are required, prepare and submit the necessary permit applications to the local authorities. Be prepared to provide detailed information about your business, its impact on the community, and why you believe your request should be approved.

Attend Public Hearings:

If your application requires a public hearing, attend the meetings to present your case and address any concerns from the local community or authorities.

Comply with Conditions:

If your permit or variance is approved, ensure that you comply with any conditions imposed by the local authorities, such as adhering to operating hours or making specific modifications to the property.

If you are considering opening a business in Thurston County you can use the Thurston County Geo Data Center website to obtain more information about the location you are interested. To look up a specific property in the Geo Data Center visit

Additionally, if you need a resource to help you start finding physical locations in Washington State you can visit the Washington Department of Commerce's startup website and use their property search tool here

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