Zoning 101

Updated: Aug 5, 2019

So, what do you need to know about zoning?

A yellow Charleston County zoning notice sign is staked in the grass

Zoning is the way local governments regulate the physical development of land and how property can be used. On Johns Island, zoning regulations are administered by the City of Charleston or Charleston County depending upon where the property is located. Every property in the City or County has a legal zoning designation that determines how it can be utilized. For example, it may be designated for residential, commercial, or agricultural use. These classifications may be used in various combinations. In general, each zone district has unique development standards and allowed uses and should fit with the land around it.

Zoning helps to create a vibrant community for current and future residents. Districts may have residences, office space, or both. It can help create job opportunities so residents can live and work in the same area.

A jurisdiction’s zoning department administers regulations as adopted by its Council. For Johns Island, this could be City Council or County Council depending on the location of the property. Think of zoning as a set of rules that determines what can and cannot be built in a particular area.

Zoning regulates how a property is developed including (but not limited to):

  • Building height

  • Building setback

  • Land use

  • Density

  • Lot coverage

Other factors that may be influenced might include:

  • Allowed hours of business activity

  • Building location

  • Construction of new streets

  • Landscaping requirements

  • Parking

  • Preservation of trees

  • Signs

  • Subdivision of property

Is zoning permanent? No, zoning can change. Property owners can request a variance, special exception, or zoning change for their land. Requests for changes to zoning require public notification. Typically, this is done by public notice in the newspaper, signage on the property, and announcement on the City or County website.

Note: Properties within a specified distance (typically 300 feet) to the subject property are also notified.

Zoning variance requests must meet the variance test set by the State of South Carolina (S.C. Code Ann. § 6-29-800). To approve special exceptions, the governing board must determine whether a specific proposal satisfies conditions set forth in the zoning ordinance.

Land Uses

Permitted uses pertaining to the zoning district designation of a parcel of land are inherent rights that “run with the land.” This does not mean that because a parcel of land has a designated zoning that there are no further requirements/restrictions to development of that type of land use on that parcel. For the County, the Zoning and Land Development regulations (ZLDR) defines the development and design standards, and the site plan review process further ensures that the development abides by the land development regulations in place. The building permit and inspection process further ensures that development is built according to applicable building codes. The City of Charleston, and all other incorporated areas of the county, have a similar permitting and review process for all development applications. Depending on the scale and intensity of the project, there may be additional requirements, such as traffic impact analyses or specific requirements relating to stormwater management.

Zoning Symbols Zoning symbols vary among communities. An R2 zone in one community is not necessarily the same as an R2 in another community. Frequently, communities use letters of the alphabet as code abbreviations to identify the use allowed in a physical geographic area, such as A for agricultural, R for residential, C for commercial, I or M (industrial or manufacturing) and P for park or parking lots. These symbols are usually followed by a number to specify the level of use. For example, the common generalizations are R1 for a single-family home, R2 for two-dwelling units, and R3 for apartment complexes. In addition, some communities also designate another number to indicate certain square footage for that particular zone. For instance, R1-3 signifies a single-family dwelling with a lot size of less than 3 acres.

Want Notification about Zoning in Your Area?

Charleston County Residents

  1. Requests Under Consideration by Charleston County Council This link will take you to the requests under consideration by the County.

  2. You can request to be on an interested parties distribution list by contacting the Charleston County Zoning and Planning Department at (843) 202-7200. There is a Johns Island Interested Parties list.

City of Charleston Residents

  1. City of Charleston Agenda Center Through this link you can sign up for text/email notices for any City Boards/Commission agenda postings, and you can pick and choose which agendas you would like to receive notice of individually

  2. City of Charleston Neighborhood News This is a link to subscribe to the City neighborhood newsletter that goes out Friday afternoons and indicates City meetings for the following week.

  3. City of Charleston Email Notification of Agendas: For Planning Department specific agendas (Planning Commission/BZA/BAR etc) email Genita Hanna at

Charleston County Zoning Info

Charleston County Zoning Department

Charleston County Zoning and Land Development Regulations Ordinance

Charleston County Base Zoning Districts (Page 4-1)

The County’s rezoning timeline is typically about 4 months, beginning with an application that is submitted six weeks prior to the Planning Commission meeting. However, for planned developments, which are rezoning to the Planned Development Zoning District, the process typically takes longer because the applicant/agent works directly with staff on the application prior to submittal. In these instances, the length of time that the applicant/agent works with staff is dependent upon the complexity of the planned development.

City of Charleston Zoning Info

City of Charleston Zoning Department

City of Charleston Zoning Ordinance

City of Charleston Base Zoning Districts

The typical rezoning process for the City of Charleston usually takes between 2-3 months and are required to go to the Planning Commission and at least two City Council meetings – with Planning Commission and the 2nd City Council meeting serving as public hearings.

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