Zoning Ordinance


Chapter 40.2 of the Portsmouth City Code is the Zoning Ordinance. It is a set of regulations devoted to Land Use that defines:

  • How far buildings must be from the property lines
  • How far buildings on the same lot must be from each other
  • How many parking spaces are needed for a particular use type
  • Size and configuration parking spaces and lots 
  • Building heights
  • Sign regulations
  • Site plan review requirements
  • Use permit regulations
  • Other similar requirements

Zoning Ordinance Update

At the request of City Council, the City’s Zoning Ordinance was updated and subsequently adopted on December 8, 2020. The comprehensively rewritten Zoning Ordinance was designed to improve clarity and ease of use, streamline development regulations, ease nonconforming situations, protect existing neighborhood character, ensure compatibility with the Code of Virginia, and increase consistency with the City’s Build One Portsmouth Comprehensive Plan. 

Linked below is the newly adopted Portsmouth Zoning Ordinance. The new ordinance became effective on February 1, 2021.

Updated Zoning Ordinance Final Version

The Zoning Ordinance can also be accessed online via Municode.

The Zoning Ordinance Update Briefing and the Zoning Ordinance Update Presentation linked highlight the major changes to the Zoning Ordinance.  

Zoning Ordinance Update Briefing

Zoning Ordinance Update Presentation

View presentations about the Zoning Ordinance update on the City's YouTube Channel.

Zoning Ordinance new cover

Introduction to Planning and Zoning Training Presentation

Click the link below to download a basic training presentation on the basis of Planning and Zoning.

Planning and Zoning Training Presentation

Special Exceptions

Special Exceptions are required for several types of uses and circumstances including uses that are not permitted by right that have heightened impacts but not to the extent of requiring a Use Permit; exceptions to specified Community Development standards; exceptions to allowing nonconforming uses, structures, and/or lots; 

City Council delegated authority to approve Special Exceptions to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Approval is determined by majority vote of the Board of Zoning Appeals. The process requires a mandatory public hearing. Approval of Special Exceptions runs with the land.

  • Required for any use designated in Use Table as requiring a Special Exception
  • May be applied for to authorize:
    • Alternative signage
    • Fence taller than 8 feet
    • Alternative Parking Plan
    • Expansion of an existing development that can’t comply with parking
    • Expansion of a nonconforming structure or lot
    • Nonconforming use that was abandoned
    • Nonconforming single-family residential use

The Board of Zoning Appeals may impose conditions regarding the location, character, duration, and other features of the Special Exception to ensure compliance with the general intent and purposes of the Zoning Ordinance and prevent or minimize adverse effects from the request. Conditions must bear a reasonable relationship to the legitimate land use concerns generated by the request

Click the link below to download a basic training presentation on the Special Exceptions.

Special Exception Presentation

The Special Exception Application can be downloaded here. Special Exception Application Form Fillable