One of the most frustrating and constricting aspects of searching for a commercial property to buy or rent for your business is the possibility of finding the "perfect place," only to lose it again due to some zoning issue. Not all businesses can operate in just any location, especially in California, which is generally more heavily regulated across all sectors than other states. Of course, many regulations and restrictions can be gotten around using a variance or falling under a non-conforming use allowance.
If your ideal commercial location falls under an unfortunate zoning ordinance, you may be able to acquire a variance without having to attempt a change to the ordinance itself. A variance is essentially an exception to the rules. With a variance, you can operate your business against a zoning ordinance or have some sort of ongoing element of the building itself that other buildings under the same ordinance do not enjoy.
In contrast, in some cases, you may already be using a piece of property for certain purpose when a zoning ordinance goes into effect. Under a non-conforming use exception, you may be exempt from some aspect of a zoning ordinance if your operation featured something that may violate the ordinance before it came into effect. While non-conforming uses are not granted automatically, you may be able to negotiate for the privilege.
Making sure that you have proper permission to operate your business without interference or additional fees is an important part of a successful business plan. With proper legal guidance, you can ensure that you anticipate zoning issues before they arise and keep your rights and privileges protected.
Source: Findlaw, "Zoning Changes, Variances, and More," accessed March 31, 2017