Use Permits

Uses that require a Use Permit are not permitted by right but require review and approval by City Council to ensure they do not have an undesirable impact on an area. 

Use Permits are reviewed in accordance with Section 40.2-533 of the City’s Zoning Ordinance. Applicants can consult the Use Table (Section 40.2-216 – Use Table) in the Zoning Ordinance to determine uses that require a Use Permit.

use table

Use Permit General Information

  • Approval of a Use Permit is determined by majority vote of Council following a recommendation by the Planning Commission.
  • The process requires mandatory public hearings.
  • Use Permit approval runs with the land.
  • City Council may impose conditions regarding the location, character, and other features of the Use Permit to:  
    • Ensure compliance with the general intent and purposes of the Zoning Ordinance 
    • Prevent or minimize adverse effects from the use  
  • Conditions must bear a reasonable relationship to the legitimate land use concerns generated by the use. 
  • When imposing conditions on residential projects specifying materials and methods of construction or specific design features, City Council shall consider the impact of the conditions upon the affordability of housing (§ 15.2-2286)

Use Permit Process

  • A Use Permit may be granted by City Council for uses that may be appropriate in a zoning district but, because of their nature, extent, and external effects, require special consideration of their location, design, and methods of operation before they can be deemed appropriate in the district in accordance with procedures and standards outlined in Section 40.2-533 of the City’s Zoning Ordinance
  • Applicants are encouraged to consult the City’s Zoning Ordinance prior to submitting their application. Chapter 40.2 Article III contains site design requirements. 
  • The Use Permit application process typically takes at least four (4) months.
  • Applications are due at 5:00pm on the date listed in the Planning Commission schedule which is typically 45 days prior to the meeting date.
  • A staff coordinator will be assigned to each application and ensure the application is complete. The completed application will be routed to other City departments for comment. Meeting notices will be mailed to adjacent property owners to allow public comment. Staff will write a staff report that includes a recommendation for the application. 
  • Applications will not be advertised and will not be included on the Planning Commission agenda if they are incomplete. 
  • No application, permit, or approval shall be considered on property where there is a known outstanding violation of the Zoning Ordinance, unless the application, permit, and/or approval would remedy the violation.
  • If the City Treasurer identifies that there are any delinquent or outstanding real estate taxes, nuisance charges, stormwater management utility fees, or other charges that constitute a lien on the subject property, no application shall be processed unless the applicant produces satisfactory evidence that these delinquent charges have been paid, unless otherwise authorized by the City Treasurer.
  • Applicants are encouraged to speak with adjoining property owners and/or nearby civic leagues concerning proposed plans.
  • Use Permit applications are first heard at a Planning Commission Public Hearing. Planning Commission meets the first Tuesday of each month at 1:30 PM. Click here to download the Planning Commission meeting schedule with the meeting schedule and application deadlines.
  • Applications will then be heard at one or two City Council meetings, typically the following month, which are held the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. 
  • City Council may impose conditions regarding the location, character, duration, and other features of the Use Permit. 
  • If City Council approves an application on first reading, then no additional reading shall be required and the application shall be deemed finally approved. If City Council denies an application on first reading, then at the discretion of City Council there may be a second reading of the application at a subsequent meeting of the City Council. If the application is approved on a second reading, then the application shall be deemed finally approved. If the application is denied on a second reading, or if City Council declines to hold a second reading, then the application shall be deemed finally denied.
  • Except as provided for by City Council, a Use Permit shall automatically expire and become void two (2) years from the date of approval by City Council if the use is inactive or changed to a different use, unless within such two-year period: (a) A building permit is obtained and erection or alteration of a structure is started; or (b) A Certificate of Occupancy is obtained and a use commenced.
  • A Use Permit approval may be revoked by City Council following a public hearing for failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the Use Permit. 
  • The Use Permit Application Fee is $660 or fee as established in City Code Appendix A Portsmouth Fee Schedule
  • Fees are typically non-refundable once the application has been advertised. 
use permit

Use Permit Application

The Use Permit Application can be downloaded here. Use Permit Application Form 

Click here to download the Planning Commission meeting schedule with the application submission deadlines. 

A Pre-Application Conference with Planning Staff is strongly recommended prior to submission of a Use Permit application. 

  • Pre-Application Conferences are not binding on the City. Comments made during a Pre-Application Conference do not constitute official assurances or representations by the City or its officials regarding any aspect of the plan or submittal.
  • Staff cannot guarantee that all relevant issues will be discussed or that initial staff reactions will reflect the ultimate staff recommendations. Requirements of other City departments will not typically be discussed.

The Pre-Application Conference Request Form can be downloaded here. Pre-Application Conference Request Form

Applicants should be sure to consult the checklist on the Use Permit application to ensure that all the required information and materials are included with the application when it is submitted. The Planning staff can be consulted if additional information is needed prior to submitting an application.

Use Permit Application Submission

Completed applications should be submitted by email whenever possible. Email applications for Use Permits to Julie Chop (

Electronic/digital submission of applications and other materials is encouraged whenever feasible.

For items that cannot be emailed, applicants can send items by US Postal Service, FedEx, or UPS (as appropriate for the application type).



Credit card payments can now be accepted over the phone. Please call the Planning Department at 757-393-8836 for more information. Please note that a signed credit card authorization form is required to be submitted before a credit card payment can be processed.