Every property in the city and county is designated as being in a particular zoning "district". Each district has a set of regulations on the variety of uses (e.g. single family, multifamily, office, commercial, industrial) that are permitted, how large and how tall buildings can be and how far back from property lines they must be set, how much parking is required, what signage is permitted, etc. When property owners want to use their property in a way that their current designation does not allow, they apply for a "change of zone". In order to be approved for certain zoning districts, the applicant must also submit detailed site plans ("use permits") that are reviewed along with the "change of zone". And in order to use the property for certain particular uses, the property owner must apply for a "special permit" that allows that particular use, often subject to special conditions imposed to make the use more compatible.

In Lancaster County, various elected bodies have zoning jurisdiction over property. (See map.) Each incorporated community has jurisdiction over land within their city limits. In addition, the City of Lincoln zoning jurisdiction extends 3 miles beyond the city limits. Incorporated communities such as Waverly or Hickman have a one mile zoning jurisdiction. The Lancaster County Board has zoning jurisdiction over all the remaining land, including a few unincorporated areas of the county.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Change of Zone?

All property within the City and its three-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction is zoned, and can range from agricultural to industrial zoning. The City's Zoning Ordinance, part of Lincoln Municipal Code (LMC), describes the various zoning districts and includes the range of uses allowed in each district along with the applicable regulators such as setbacks and other minimum standards. There are two types of zone changes. The first involves the process of changing the zoning designation on a specific parcel of land from one designation to another. The second involves an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance itself, and is typically referred to as text amendment. Both are processed in the same manner and require City Council approval, but have very different effects. It should be noted that a useful development tool known as the Planned Unit Development, or simply the PUD, is also a change of zone application as well. The application requirements are much greater compared to other change of zone applications and involve more review and coordination, so it is recommended you please consult with Planning staff prior to submitting a change of zone for a PUD.

What is a Special Permit?

In any given zoning district, there are three type of uses: permitted (also described as a use-by-right); conditional (similar to a permitted use provided a set of conditions are met first); and special. The last category of special permit is not considered a use-by-right, rather approval by either the Planning Commission or City Council is required. Special permits are applied to uses which may be appropriate in the zoning district(s) where allowed, but due to the nature of the use mitigation or conditions to ensure compatibility with surrounding land uses may be appropriate. Special permits approved by the Planning Commission are effective approximately 45 days from the date of application (30 days from application to the Planning Commission's public hearing, and a 15 day waiting period where the Commission's action can be appealed to the City Council).

What is a Use Permit?

There are five zoning districts which require approval of a use permit prior to development. They are the R-T, O-3, B-2, B-5 and I-3 zoning districts. A use permit is essentially a zoning overlay which provides the City site plan review authority for office and commercial developments. Somewhat contrary to what the name implies, the site plan review focuses on building arrangement, access points, and buffers versus regulation of uses. All uses allowed in the underlying zoning district are also allowed in a use permit.

What is an Administrative Amendment?

Once a planned unit development, community unit plan, special permit or use permit has been approved, minor changes are sometimes necessary to accommodate specific development proposals. These changes can include such things as setback adjustments (interior to the development), minor increases in allowed floor area, or site layout. Under the Zoning Ordinance, the Planning Director is authorized to approve minor adjustments which are deemed to not significantly change the character of the development nor impact surrounding properties. The ability to approve minor changes administratively means such applications do not require Planning Commission or City Council approval and save applicants time in the permitting process.

What is a Variance & Appeal?

The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) is authorized to hear petitions to vary the strict application of the height, area, parking, density or sign regulations, and to hear appeals when an error in a determination or decision on the part of a City official is alleged. The BZA is authorized to grant relief to the extent necessary to allow an applicant a reasonable use of the land. The Board is quasijudicial, meaning their decisions are final and can only be appealed district court. Applications for variance are submitted to the Department of Building and Safety, and can be considered by the BZA approximately 30 days after submittal of the application.

What are Use Groups?

Use Groups are a mechanism for categorizing land uses and activities based on common, functional, and physical characteristics. The categorization of types of uses into use groups provides a systematic basis for assignment of present and future use types to zoning districts. The categorization of uses is derived from the goals and policies of the Lincoln/Lancaster County Comprehensive Plan. Use Groups are a way to organize and format a zoning ordinance.

What is a Planned Unit Development (PUD)

Planned Unit Developments (PUD) are intended to encourage flexibility in design by allowing for a mix of land uses (such as residential, retail, office and public) as part of a single overall development plan. PUDs must be a minimum of three acres in size and must meet the regulations of the underlying zoning district unless modified by the City Council during the adoption of the PUD plan.

What is a Community Unit Plan (CUP)?

Community Unit Plans (CUP) are used to encourage creative design in newer residential areas by allowing for variations in lot size, subdivision layout, public infrastructure, and other plat elements. CUPs are only allowed to occur in residentially zoned districts (R-1 through R-6) and in certain Build Through Acreage (BTA) situations.

How do I find out the zoning designation on my property and my neighbor's property? What does it mean, and how does it restrict the way that we can use our land?

See the zoning maps on the Web site. Then go to Title 27 Zoning, and select the chapter containing the rules for your district. You can also find Use Groups tables listing what land uses are permitted and Title 27.72 LMC will show the height and lot area regulations for each zoning district. If you have questions, call the Building and Safety Department at 441-7882.

Some areas have "overlay" districts that impose additional restrictions on the use of the land. These districts include Flood Plain, Capitol Environs, Historic Preservation and Airport Environs Noise District. Flood plain maps can be viewed on this Web site. The other maps may be viewed at the Planning Department. Citizens may also call the numbers listed above to ask which overlays may apply to their property.

In addition to the underlying zoning district, particular sites may have special permits and/or use permits with more particular restrictions. Maps that show the locations of these sites and the special restrictions for each of them are also available online.

Sometimes lenders require zoning "verification" or "certification" letters when you are selling or financing property. The information required can vary from a simple statement of the current zoning classification on the property and what uses are permitted in that zone to a detailed evaluation of the conformance of the uses and improvements on the property to the zoning rules. The City/County does not prepare letters of this type; instead you may need to contract with a private attorney or title company to provide this service. 

What if a property owner wants to do something on his or her property that is not allowed by the current zoning designation? How can he or she get it changed?

The process begins with the owner or a prospective purchaser submitting a "change of zone" application and filing fee to the Planning Department. All applicants are encouraged to first meet with staff to make sure that they understand the information required for a submittal and the potential issues they may face. Applicants are also strongly encouraged to meet with neighboring owners prior to filing the application, especially if the change appears to be controversial. This allows the applicant to consider incorporating the concerns of neighbors in order to find out how best to mitigate the impact of their proposed development. For a small fee, the Planning Department can provide the applicant with a list of the owners of the properties. The Planning Department can also help identify the local neighborhood association that represents the interest of particular areas of the city.

From the submittal date, it will take four to six weeks until the Planning Commission public hearing. Staff will research the request to determine the previous history relating to the site, the character of surrounding uses and zoning, the infrastructure available and consistency of the request with relevant Comprehensive Plan policies. Staff also prepares a list of nearby owners and mails them notice of the upcoming hearing; submits an advertisement of the hearing to the local newspaper; posts a sign on the property; solicits comments from other departments; and prepares a staff report with analysis and recommendations. The report goes to the Planning Commission along with correspondence from the applicant and other interested parties in advance of the public hearing. The Planning Commission agendas for past and current meetings are posted on our webpage. Information about the application is available by clicking on the application number in the agenda(s).

The Planning Commission holds its hearing and then votes on each application. Staff then prepares minutes of the discussion and vote and sends those, along with all the information sent to the Planning Commission, on to the elected board. The elected board holds its own hearing and votes to approve or deny the request. Final action by the elected board can be appealed to District Court by the applicant or other "aggrieved party".

Application forms and instructions for zoning and related permits can be found on the Planning Department Web site. Applicants can choose to contract with private attorneys, planning consultants or other individuals to act as their agents in the rezoning process. For additional information, call the Planning Department at 441-7491.

I think my neighbor is using his property illegally according to the zoning rules. Where do I make a complaint?

One of the duties of the Building and Safety Department is to enforce the zoning ordinance. To report a violation, call 402-441-7521, send a letter to 555 S. 10th St., Ste. 203, Lincoln NE 68508 or e-mail the Department at bldgsafe@lincoln.ne.gov.

What can I do if my neighbor is trying to change the zoning on his property, and I don't like his plans?

First, you can contact the applicant directly to discuss your concerns. A telephone number for the contact person associated with the application can be found on the notification letter that nearby neighbors receive. You have the right to comment on any application filed. You can comment in person by testifying at the official public hearing or in writing or by fax or e-mail prior to the hearing. Aggrieved parties, as well as the applicant, have the right to appeal Planning Commission decisions to the elected board, and decisions of the final approving body can be appealed to District Court. Appeals must be filed within specified time periods. You also have the right to file an application to change the zoning designation on some other property, although this is very rarely approved if the owner objects.