Commercial Business Locations: Occupying Commercial Space

zMOD - Zoning Modernization

Fairfax County is currently working on the zMOD project to modernize the zoning ordinance. These provisions may change in 2020. Read "More about zMOD" for timeline and information on the proposed revisions.

Development Process Cycle infographic

Before you sign a lease, be sure that you understand what you will need to do to be able to utilize your proposed space for your business. Some things to consider when finding a location for your business are zoning, building use classification and parking.

If you are looking for commercial or industrial space, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (EDA) may be able to help.

Before you sign a lease or purchase property, make sure you understand what will be required.

It is possible to change the zoning of a piece of property, to modify the building to meet the requirements for your proposed use, and to permit shared parking between uses, but those steps require applications, permits, time and money.


Think of zoning as the uses that the County allows to happen on each piece of property because it allows for orderly development and results in the type of community that we want to have. For example, grouping retail uses together in commercial areas, and residential uses in residential districts is part of zoning.

Every property in Fairfax County has a zoning designation, and the Zoning Ordinance includes lists of uses which are allowed in each zoning district, as well as limitations regarding building size, height and location on the property, among other things.

Before you sign a lease or purchase property, please be sure that your proposed use is allowable in that space under the Zoning Ordinance. 

Some uses are permitted by-right, while others will require approval of a Special Exception or a Special Permit.


If you are unsure whether your use is permitted in a certain location, contact the Zoning Administration Division (703-324-1314).

  • Sometimes the uniqueness of a business concept may not fit clearly within an existing use definition, and you will be asked to submit a Use Determination Request to the Zoning Administrator.
  • Based on the description of your use, the Zoning Administrator will determine what zoning designation matches your use, where your use can be established, and by which process.

Building Code

The Building Code includes the standards for construction for every building or use. The Building Code provides standards for things like how many points of egress are necessary, how many restrooms are required and what type of ventilation is required. As an example, a warehouse and a childcare center may be allowable in the same zoning district, but it makes sense that they would be constructed differently, and the standards for each are contained in the Building Code.

If you intend to make physical changes to your space, or you are planning to occupy space that was previously occupied by a different type of business (for example, the previous tenant was an office user, but you are proposing retail use) building plans, permits and inspections may be required.

Review Step 4 of the Development Cycle: Permits and Review.

If you are filing only for an interior alteration, be sure to use the standardized coversheet and take advantage of the minimum submission checklist on the Tenant Layout publication.


The Zoning Ordinance includes minimum required parking rates for every type of use, which are reflected on the parking rate table. If your proposed use has a parking requirement which exceeds the parking requirement for the prior use of the tenant space, you may be required to submit a parking tabulation.

This tabulation must show that adequate parking exists for each tenant in the building, or on the parcel of land (if multiple buildings were established on a single plan), assuming maximum occupancy of all uses. Parking tabulations (except those in the Tysons Urban Center) are processed by the Site Application Center, Land Development Services.  

Non-Residential Use/Occupancy Permit aka “Non-RUP”

Each commercial tenant needs a Non-Residential Use/Occupancy Permit before you can occupy space. This permit, issued by the Zoning Permit Review Branch, is issued only after staff has verified the zoning, building classification and adequacy of parking for each tenant. Non-RUPs are not transferrable and terminate when a tenant leaves the space.

You must apply for a Non-RUP in person at the Zoning Permit Review Branch (12055 Government Center Parkway, Suite 250). In most cases, a Non-RUP will be issued while you wait.

Sign Permits

A separate sign permit application is required to be submitted and approved for each proposed free-standing and/or building-mounted sign prior to installation. Depending on the sign, building permits and/or electrical review may be required.

Sign applications must be submitted in person to the Zoning Inspections Branch, 12055 Government Center Parkway, Suite 829, Fairfax, VA 22035. It is in your best interest to wait until you have the sign permits approved before you order your signage.

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