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Frequently Asked Questions: Zoning & Land Use

What is a Special Permit?

Under a Zoning Ordinance in a city or a By-Law in a town, certain uses are permitted as a matter of right.  For example, building a single-family home in a residential district, would be allowed as a matter of right. Constructing an industrial building or a warehouse in an industrial zone would also typically be allowed as a matter of right.  Some uses, however, are only allowed conditionally.  That condition is referred to as a Special Permit.  A person would apply to the local Zoning Board of Appeals for a Special Permit to conduct a use which is only conditionally allowed.  Typically the conditions would be such that there were no traffic problems, pedestrian safety problems, no overloading of water, sewer or other municipal systems, and that there would not be an undesirable effect on the surrounding neighborhood.  If the applicant can meet all of these conditions, the Zoning Board of Appeals would issue a Special Permit, which would allow that use to be conducted on that property.  Frequently, the Special Permit is subject to condition, such as buffers, screening, hours of operation and site layout.

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