Zoning for the All-In-One Commercial Space

Many zoning regulations were drafted decades ago in an era before all-in-one superstores. Accordingly, the form and structure of these regulations often reflects a single use-based regulatory scheme, with lists of dozens of commercial uses that are permitted in each progressive zone category. Today’s all-in-one commercial establishment typically provides many of these uses under one roof, and it is important to confirm that all of the proposed uses are permitted within the applicable zone district.

Take, for example, the District of Columbia’s zoning regulations. The lowest density C-1 commercial zone permits bakeries, cosmetics or toiletries store, pharmacies and florist shops as well as grocery stores, which today typically include all of the above uses. Even a modern all-in-one grocery store should fit in the lowest zone district without difficulty.

But what about superstores that include not only groceries but also apparel, home furnishings, toys and electronics? Accommodating one of these stores in the lowest-density zone could depend on the mix of uses within the proposed retail space. Some of the uses found in a superstore, including electric appliance sales, book stores, hardware shops and toy stores are also permitted in the C-1 Zone District. By contrast, other uses typically found in a superstore, such as dry goods stores, home furnishing stores and department stores, are first permitted in the less-restrictive, higher-density, C-2 commercial zones. The District is considering a comprehensive overhaul of the zoning regulations that would restructure the regulations around broader categories of use (e.g., “retail uses,” “general service uses” and “eating and drinking establishments”), which may eliminate the distinction among types of retail uses in low and moderate density commercial zones.

Eating establishments within grocery and other all-in-one stores also require a close examination. As standalone establishments, restaurants are permitted starting in the lowest density commercial district without reservation, but other eating establishments are restricted under the District’s Zoning Regulations. In the lower density zone districts, “prepared food shops” (establishments such as sandwich shops, coffee shops or ice cream parlors) are permitted, but with limitations on the number of seats, and fast-food establishments are not permitted at all. When contained within a grocery store or other use, prepared and fast food establishments are allowed in a lower-density zone district, but only if the food service use is subordinate or accessory to the principal grocery or other use. As retailers continue to modernize and expand their prepared food offerings to appeal to evolving consumer preferences, they should consider how the food service uses relate to the other uses within the store.

Related topics: Compliance, Restaurants, Retail, Zoning