Zoning for Glamping - How to Check You Have the Right Zoning for a Glamping Business (With Case Study)
Created by Nick Purslow Published on
Publishing this walkthrough might just be the worst idea we’ve ever had.
We’re giving you a step-by-step guide, FOR FREE, on how to do something that we charge $497 to do for you. It’s like McDonald’s posting their Big Mac sauce recipe on the internet for everyone to copy. Do you see them doing that?
Exactly, we’re dumb.
But we’re also lovely people, which is why we’re telling you exactly how to check your zoning, which is the step we recommend all prospective glamping site owners take before doing anything else.
We’re damn good at it too, so you better listen. Set some time aside, get your pen and paper ready, and make notes. On the face of it, it might save you $497. In reality, it could save you millions of dollars.
Note 1: If you’re from Houston or any of those other places that are free from the horrors of the zoning system, feel free to leave now. You don’t have to worry about any of this. Skip to our guide on how to start a glamping business instead.
Note 2: If you don't yet have a property, this guide will still be useful as you'll need to check the zoning of any property you're interested in as part of the due diligence process. However, when searching for a property we recommend doing broader zoning checks first to make sure you're not wasting your time looking in a municipality that won't let you build a glampground. Click here for more details.
How Does the Zoning System Work in North America?
We’ll give you a few options for learning how the zoning system works.
- If video is your thing, just watch the 4-minute excerpt from our podcast with a zoning expert above.
- If you’d prefer a more interactive learning experience, book a call with one of our experts through this link and we’ll explain it all for you over the phone, for free. See how nice we are?
- If you learn better through reading, carry on and read the explanation below.
- If you already know how the zoning system works, click here to skip to the good stuff.
Almost every piece of land in the US and Canada is divided into “zones” by local governments (generally the city or county). These zones are named according to how the city/county expects the land within that zone to be used.
For example, Ventura County, California, divides land into the following zone types:
- Open Space
- Rural Residential
- Urban Residential
- Special Purpose Zones
- Overlay Zones
Each of those zone types has sub-types (e.g. the Rural Residential Zone is split into three sub-types: Rural Agricultural; Rural Exclusive and Single-Family Estate), but we won’t over-complicate things for now.
Under each zone type comes a list of permitted uses relevant to that zone. These permitted uses are the types of developments and uses that the county will allow on land within that zone. For example, you can expect farming-related activities to be permitted uses in the Agricultural zone, and the Residential zone will likely allow for housing developments.
Anything not listed as a permitted use makes it very difficult to develop for that purpose on the land. For instance, housing developments probably won’t be allowed in Agricultural zones, and the county would likely dismiss any such application.
Though it might seem overly bureaucratic, the zoning system does serve an important purpose. It’s what prevents nuclear power plants being built next to elementary schools. Yet, we can’t deny that it creates issues for our clients who want to build glamping sites on their land.
Why Check Your Zoning Before Anything Else When Developing a Glamping Site?
This bit is really important, so listen up.
You might be tempted to dive headfirst into the process of developing your glamping site by, for example, ordering safari tents or buying a property. If you do that, you’re even dumber than we are for giving away this guide for free.
We personally guarantee that checking your zoning as a first step will do one of two things:
A) Drastically increase your chances of acquiring a permit for your glamping business
B) Save you a ton of time, money and hassle by stopping a dead-end project
Outcome A - Increase the Likelihood of Acquiring a Permit
By doing some basic research on how your land is zoned, what permitted uses are allowed in that zone and how those permitted uses are defined in the ordinances, you’ll put yourself ahead of the vast majority of average Joes making enquiries to your county planning department. You’ll be able to ask highly specific questions and receive highly specific answers, which will shape your arguments for when you have to apply for your glamping permits.
We can’t stress enough how much more useful your conversations with the county planning division will be if you’re specific in your enquiries, in contrast to simply asking, “Can I do glamping on my land?”.
Don’t believe us? Nick Labadie, land use consultant of 17 years, explains it better than we ever could in less than 5 minutes below:
Outcome 2 - Save You Time, Money and Hassle
Let’s use a hypothetical guy called Bob to flesh this example out.
Bob wants to start a glamping business but doesn’t think he needs to worry about zoning or any of that crap. So he buys a 5-acre property, orders 10 yurts and starts dreaming about how much money he’s going to make in the exciting world of glamping. What Bob doesn’t realise is that he’s just blown his investment.
If Bob had taken the time to look at his county’s zoning ordinances before committing to anything, he would have realised that his new property falls in a district set aside for residential development, where tourist developments simply aren’t allowed. A few hours of research would have saved him hundreds of thousands of dollars, and his glamping dream would still be alive. Silly Bob.
Have we convinced you that a simple zoning check should be your first step? Great. Now, onto the meaty stuff.
How to See If You Have the Right Zoning for Glamping
The process of checking your zoning is split into three steps:
- Step 1 - Identify your zoning district
- Step 2 - Discover your permitted uses
- Step 3 - Connect the dots
Step 1 - Identify Your Zoning District
Remember Bob? We’re going to use him as an example again, but this time we’ll show you what he does now he's learnt his lesson.
This time, Bob doesn’t buy a property without considering zoning. He knows he’d like to operate a glamping site in Ventura County, California, but he makes sure to do some due diligence before doing anything crazy. Well done Bob.
First, Bob needs to access Ventura County’s GIS map - available here (note: Ventura County doesn’t appear to like people outside the US accessing their system, so we’ll do our best to help you follow along if the links don’t work). GIS maps will give you lots of information about all the parcels of land within the county’s jurisdiction but, for our purposes, a lot of this is noise. You need to filter out all the unnecessary stuff and make sure that the only information shown on the map is how the land is zoned.
Bob enters the address of the property he's looking at into the GIS system, and it shows up on the map (where the arrow is pointing above). Bob sees that the land falls within an Open Space zone (OS = Open Space).
Now he knows what zone his land is in, it’s time for Bob to find the list of permitted uses for that zone, as listed in Ventura County’s zoning ordinances.
Step 2 - Discover Your Permitted Uses
You’re not going to find “glamping” listed as a permitted use in any zoning code. The concept is too new, and the industry too niche, to warrant its own listing. The real game is finding a permitted use that your glamping development could fall under. Examples of permitted uses that may encompass glamping include:
- Temporary dwellings
- Short-term rentals
- Hotels and motels
Whether or not a glamping site fits within any of those uses depends on a number of factors, including how the use is defined in the zoning ordinance and the extent to which county officials adhere to the code. This naturally varies hugely from county to county and city to city.
Let’s see what the permitted uses are for Bob’s proposed land. As a reminder, he falls within the Open Space zone.
After looking through the permitted uses for Ventura County’s Open Space zone, we can see that three interesting uses come up: “Camps”, “Campgrounds” and “Retreats”. That’s a positive sign for Bob, as it suggests something glamping-related may be allowed on his property, pending a Conditional Use Permit (CUP).
Note: The requirement of a CUP is very important, as it means he'll have to put forward a persuasive application later down the line to convince the county to let him build his site.
To investigate the three possible uses further, he decides to find out how Ventura County defines them.
He heads to the definitions section of the ordinance, and finds the following entries:
There are also a ton of rules and regulations surrounding these uses, but we won’t go into that in great detail today. Just see the Campground requirements below as an example:
This stuff is complicated, right? It’s why you might be best to leave it to the experts. We’ll do it all for you and package it up into a neat little report, ensuring you don’t miss anything important.
Anyway, enough of the sales pitch. Bob now knows how his land is zoned, which uses are permitted and how those uses are defined. What’s next? It’s time to connect the dots.
Step 3 - Connect the Dots
Connecting the dots means assessing the possible uses to identify the one that most likely fits your project.
For Bob, he can probably rule out the Camp argument, as he doesn’t plan on running structured activities (remember, Ventura County's zoning ordinances require Camps to include organised activities). He’s open to pitching his site as a Campground, but the “without permanent structures” element worries him, as he suspects Ventura County planners will class yurts as permanent structures.
That leaves the Retreat use. Nothing in the definition suggests it won’t align with his plans, and he’s confident he can convince the county that his ideal guests will be searching for a ‘chilled-out vibe’.
After taking the time to do that initial research, he’s ready to move on to the next stage. He books an appointment with the Ventura County Planning Division and says, “I’m looking at purchasing a property in an Open Space zone and building a Retreat, as per the definition provided in the zoning ordinances. I’m considering up to 10 yurts, but I’m prepared to be flexible as I’m keen to work with you guys to create something that’s within the code and adds something to the community.”
See how much more effective that opening gambit is compared to, “I want to build a glamping site, where do I start?”? The conversation that follows will be so much more useful, and this is particularly important given the appointment will probably have a time limit of 30 minutes. Bob will be able to get specific guidance on how he can make sure his project falls under the Retreat definition, and he can explore other possibilities too. It may turn out, for example, that the Campground argument is more suitable.
Receiving this kind of specific guidance will be hugely valuable for Bob, as it will guide his arguments in his Conditional Use Permit application. If he’d squandered his time with the county, he’d have come away from the meeting none the wiser as to what he should do to get his application over the line.
So there it is, folks. There’s the secret sauce. Hope you found it useful, because it took us a long time to write.
Remember, checking your zoning is a long and complex process that’s easy to get wrong. If you’d prefer to be on the safe side, or you just want to save yourself some time, book a call with one of our zoning experts or download our Zoning Screening Info Pack to find out more about Glampitect’s zoning screening service.
We're pretty good at conducting Zoning Screenings. Just ask one of our previous clients:
If that doesn’t interest you, give us a follow on our socials as a way of saying thank you for the hours (yes, hours) we put into writing this helpful guide. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and subscribe to our “Start a Glamping Business” podcast on Youtube, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.