Zoning Permits: Conditional Use Approval

What It Is

Conditional Use Approval is the permission to use or develop a piece of land in a way not specified in the zoning code or land use ordinance, so long as the the owner or developer meets  certain criteria, or ‘conditions’. Conditional uses are zoning permits that either create set of restrictions on a land use above and beyond what is typically required in a given zoning ordinance, or allowances/approval for a non-compliant land use in a zoning district as long as it meets certain criteria.

These instances may occur if the proposed land use is not explicitly defined in the ordinance, if the development has the potential to greatly impact the surrounding land uses, or conversely, the municipality would like to open a particular use across land use designations (e.g. allowing gas industry development in commercial or agricultural districts.

What Industry Must Show in Order to Succeed

The granting of conditional uses is a public process. The process is typically handled through public hearings in front of local government such as a board of commissioners, or city council. Additionally, the applicant for a conditional use approval must prove that the proposed use conforms to the development requirements in the Zoning Ordinance. If someone is opposed to the proposed development they have the opportunity to present a case outlining why the proposed use is harmful to the “public health, safety, and welfare” of the community (refer to Opportunities for Public Engagement). 


People Involved

  • Municipal Governing Authority (such as Board of Commissioners)
  • Zoning Officer
  • Public - during opportunities to comment
  • Adjacent property owners
  • Private Attorneys

Who Decides

The local governing body (such as city council, board of commissioners , or board of appeals) makes the ultimate decision.


Application Submitted: A conditional use application is decided by the local governing body (City Council, Board of Commissioners, etc.).  But first, the zoning official and/or Planning Commission is required to review the application and make a recommendation to either approve or deny the conditional use request.

The governing body must hold a public hearing on the application.

The governing body must provide notice of the public hearing no fewer than 7 days before the hearing.

Decision/Issuance: A decision should be issued by the governing body within 45 days of the hearing.

How to Challenge: The relevant parties may challenge the decision of municipal authorities and file an appeal with the Court of Common Pleas within the county the land development is to occur. At this time, the Court will either accept or deny the appeal.

Opportunities for Public Engagement

Key stakeholders, such as adjacent residents or property owners, have the opportunity to be active within the hearings as “protestants.” Protestants have the opportunity to provide evidence and testimony to support their particular case, be it individual or as a group. Ideally, the governing body allows time for the public to reflect and comment prior to coming to a decision.

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