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10 Most Common Land Zoning Designations in Mecklenburg County

Before World War II, there were three different land zone designations in North Carolina — industrial, commercial, and residential. Each zoning designation had rules regarding things like setbacks, signage, permissible activities, and parking. Beginning in the 1950s, Mecklenburg County started changing radically. These three designations could not accommodate these changes. For example, one of the earliest zoning issues involved professionals, like doctors and lawyers, who wanted office space in residential areas.

Today, modern land use codes contain multiple zones. As was the case before, each one has its own rules. Neighborhoods in Mecklenburg County change constantly, mostly due to redevelopment and population shifts. A Charlotte land use attorney can be instrumental in assisting those seeking to preserve neighborhood identities and assisting residents and businesses whose needs require a change of the existing zoning designations.


There are very few “rural” areas left in Mecklenburg County. Nevertheless, the residential, or “R”, designation persists. R districts have several subdivisions, largely depending on the size of the lots. Homebuilders and homeowners should pay special attention to these subdivisions as construction or renovation could easily cause a single or multi-family dwelling to violate zoning laws. Other R district subdivisions are use-based, such as resort and innovative use.

Urban Residential

The UR rules are much the same as the R rules. Generally, the subcategories are based on the ratio of floor area to building occupants. Bear in mind that the distinction between rural and urban is a very fine one in places like Charlotte. Furthermore, almost any renovation, like converting commercial to residential space in a downtown area, usually requires a zoning change.

Research District

As of now, there are not too many RE zones in Mecklenburg County. The closest example is probably Research Triangle Park in Raleigh-Durham. Some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and biotech companies, such as Cisco Systems and GlaxoSmithKline, are headquartered here. RE zones are essentially mixed-use commercial and residential districts.


The two O subdivisions are usually licensed professional offices, such as accountants and doctors, and licensed nonprofessionals, like plumbers and exterminators. Usually, these businesses cannot sell any products. Other requirements include sign restrictions, parking requirements, and fleet requirements (i.e. company vehicles must be kept in enclosed or fenced-off areas).


Most business districts are zoned B-2 (general business) or B-2CD (general business with conditional zoning). If a business has any special requirements, like a sidewalk display or unusual operating hours, it is likely located in a CD area. Certain businesses, such as distributorships, warehouses, and neighborhood businesses, must be in specially designated areas.


There are three types of I zones in Charlotte/Mecklenburg County: urban, light, and general. General I zones are by far the most common. Light industry is usually product assembly. Retail stores which offer assembly services usually need special zoning accommodations. There are almost no urban industrial areas in North Carolina.

Historic District

HD zones are among the most controversial land use zones in Mecklenburg County. These areas must be more than old. They must be historically significant in some way. Generally, developers can use the structures in these areas, which are almost always homes or schools, for different purposes, however, the facades and similar features must remain essentially the same.

Passenger Vehicle Sales

VS districts are especially common in Huntersville. Requirements include square foot limits, foliated buffer yards, and trees. If the area uses VS districts, homeowners most likely need zoning variances to sell used cars on their property. The issuing agency may impose advertisements and other restrictions.

Campus Institutional

Any educational provider probably needs to be in a CI district. In some places, a business designation might suffice. Many educational institutions, like driving schools, are in mini-malls. Setting up such a business in this type location might violate local zoning laws. A possible saving grace is that CI districts are usually designed for buildings that are so big they cannot possibly blend in with adjacent buildings. So, a storefront educational institution does not always violate zoning laws.

Manufactured Home Overlay

Technically, MH-O districts are zoning accommodations. These accommodations are usually only available in R districts. So, it might be illegal to keep a manufactured home, like a fifth wheel, on your lot. It might also be illegal to park in certain areas.

Count on a Diligent Attorney

The government strictly enforces zoning requirements. For a confidential consultation with an experienced land use attorney in Charlotte, contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Mecklenburg County and nearby jurisdictions.