The Zoning Ordinance distinguishes between uses permitted “by-right” and uses allowed by “special exception,” with a use permit being a form of special exception. Use permits are required for land and building uses outside the rights of the ordinance in certain zoning districts (separate from Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) use permits). Use permits provide a process for considering and approving such uses, subject to special conditions particular to the character of the use. Use permits are decided by the County Board on a monthly basis and are not reviewed by any advisory groups, such as the Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) or Planning Commission (PC).
Types of Special Exception Use Permits
There are multiple types of special exception use permits, depending on the use type, service/establishment, zoning district and other factors. For more information, select one of the three types:
Use permits are required if your land or building use is outside the rights of the Zoning Ordinance, based on the use type or service/establishment.
Uses and Services/Establishments Requiring Use Permits
Use Types Requiring Use Permits
- Live entertainment and dancing
- Outdoor café
- Transitional use
- Subdivision per Zoning Ordinance §10 (URD, pipe-stem lots, UCMUD and RCD)
- Comprehensive Sign Plan
- Child care
Services & Establishments Requiring Use Permits
- Automobile service station/gas station: Any premises used for supplying gasoline and oil, at retail direct to the customer, including minor accessories and services for automobiles
- Bed and breakfast: A one-family dwelling with five (5) or fewer guestrooms available as overnight accommodations for compensation to guests for no more than 14 consecutive days per stay
- Car wash: A facility for washing motor vehicles by hand or by automated methods
- Child care center: Any facility, but not including family day care homes, operated for the purpose of providing care, protection and guidance to a group of children separated from their parents or guardians during only part of the 24-hour day, and that complies with the requirements of chapter 52 of the Arlington County Code
- Dormitory: A residence for groups who are associated with an organization such as a school or a university, a religious order, a health care program, or a nonprofit, charitable, benevolent, or governmental agency providing shelter for needy persons or persons who are objects of the agency’s charitable, benevolent, or governmental activity, which institution customarily provides housing quarters with a single kitchen and living area for the group and may include groups residing with one or more resident counselor(s) or other staff person(s). Said residence shall not be operated primarily for commercial gain.
- Drive-through: Any use that offers sales or services through a window to customers in motor vehicles
- Educational institution: A college or university giving general academic instruction equivalent to the standards prescribed by the state board of education
- Family day care home: Any dwelling unit where nine (9) or fewer children not related by blood, adoption or marriage to the person who resides in and maintains the home are received for care, protection and guidance during only part of the 24-hour day, on a regular basis, for a minimum of 10 hours per week, and that complies with the requirements of Chapter 59 of the Arlington County Code
- Food delivery service: Any establishment which prepares food and beverages to fill orders from off the site where the order is taken for delivery to off-site locations for customers as prepared and delivered
- Institutional home: A place for the care, including day care, of dependent children and persons needing assistance in the activities of normal daily living because of age or disability
- Motor vehicle sales or rental lot: Places where motor vehicles are sold or rented
- Nursery school: Any place, however designated, operated for the purpose of providing training, guidance, education or care for six (6) or more children under six (6) years of age, during any part of the day other than from 6 p.m. – 6 a.m., including kindergartens, but not including family day care homes
- Open-air market: An outdoor market held on a regular basis, and at which groups of individual sellers offer goods, new or used, for sale to the public. Open-air market shall not include garage sales not held on a regular basis, outdoor display or sales associated with retail establishments that are principally located in indoor facilities or motor vehicle dealerships.
- Outdoor Café: To be determined on a case-by-case basis. Guidelines for outdoor cafés(PDF, 42MB) (updated 2023)
- Private club: An association organized and operated on a nonprofit basis for persons who are bona fide members paying dues, which association owns or leases premises, the use of which premises is restricted to such members and their guests, and which manages the affairs of such association by and through a board of directors, executive committee or similar body chosen by the members. Food, meals and beverages may be served on such premises, provided adequate dining room space and kitchen facilities are available.
- Public garage: A business used for the care, repair or equipment of motor vehicles that is available to the public
- Public parking area: An open off-street area of land or space within a building used for the parking of motor vehicles which is available for general public use
- Recycling center:
- 1) A place open to the public for the drop-off, collection and interim storage prior to off-site processing and recycling of newspapers, corrugated papers, glass bottles, metal cans, plastic products, and other similar materials, and for associated parking spaces; and
- 2) A place open to the public for the pick-up of leaves, wood chips, fill dirt, and other similar materials, and to Arlington County agencies for the collection and interim storage of these materials
- School, elementary and high: An institution which offers instructions in the several branches of learning and study required to be taught in the public schools by the Education Code of the State of Virginia. High schools may include junior and senior.
- School of higher instruction: A college or university
- Transitional use: A use permitted on any transitional site under the regulations for the district but not permitted elsewhere in the district except on transitional sites, and subject to all other regulations for the district
- Transitional site: A lot or part thereof located in an “R,” “S-3A” or “RA” district and lying within a distance of 200 feet from the boundary of a “C” or an “M” district when such lot or part thereof:
- 1) Lies contiguous to such boundary but not across any part of a street there from; and
- 2) Is not contiguous at more than one (1) lot line to a side lot line in an “R,” “S-3A” or “RA” district
Use Permits: Development
Special Exception Use Permit: Unified Commercial Mixed-Use Development (UCMUD)
Unified Commercial Mixed Use Development (UCMUD) provides for the new construction of residential units within commercial zoning districts limited to “C-2” Service Commercial, “C-3” General Commercial and the “Clarendon Revitalization District,” as well as “C-1” and “C-TH,” as part of a mixed use development in accordance with specific guidelines.
The administrative regulation was developed for community review of UCMUD permits and provides guidance on review and submission of UCMUD use permit applications. Other resources include:
Use Permit: UCMUD applications must be submitted online.
Special Exception Use Permit: Unified Residential Development (URD)
Unified Residential Development provides an alternative to subdividing R-20 through R-5 districts to promote compatibility of one-family residential developments with surrounding neighborhoods by coordinating building forms; the bulk, scale and placement of new buildings; and the relationship between buildings and structures within the development and surrounding properties.
The administrative regulation provides guidance on review and submission of URD use permit applications.
Use Permit: URD applications must be submitted online.
Submission & Review Process
All types of use permit applications must be submitted online.
- You must complete a Use Permit Application in Permit Arlington.
- From the Create drop-down menu, select Planning Application. Be sure to select the appropriate type of use permit.
- View Permit Arlington Help for assistance with the online system.
Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to file all permit applications in accordance with preliminary filing dates. Upon receiving the use permit application, staff will review the application for completeness to determine if all of the items identified on the checklist are in place. If items are missing, the applicant will be notified by staff and given the opportunity to submit the information prior to the final filing date. If the required information is not submitted in a timely manner, the application is moved to the next available County Board meeting. Applicants are encouraged to contact impacted civic associations, residents and businesses prior to and following submission.
After the application is accepted, staff begin to generate a staff report that will be distributed at the public hearing. Impacted civic associations, residents and businesses are notified and given a copy of the application package, which includes the date of the public hearing and instructions for submitting information to be included in the staff report. The completed staff report includes a recommendation to the County Board.
County Board Action
At the County Board meeting, staff and the applicants may be requested to make a brief presentation. Others are permitted to speak in support of or in opposition to the request. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board makes a final decision on the application. The Board can approve with conditions, deny or defer.
Fee Schedules provide the range of fees charged for each type of application or activity related to land development in Arlington. Fees cover permitting, plan review, enforcement, inspection, service delivery, performance agreements and conditions. There are separate fee schedules for the Inspection Services Division (ISD), Zoning and the Department of Environmental Services (DES). Some permits involve fees from more than one schedule.