Decoding zoning: understanding development terms in Chattanooga

Become a development terminology expert faster than you can say “special use permit for a mixed-use zone.”

Officials lined up shoveling dirt, with Food City banners to the side of them.

Once completed, the downtown Food City will be part of a larger mixed-use development.

Photo provided by Food City

Table of Contents

You may know our “Decoding Zoning” series, where we work to make local zoning codes + processes easier to understand.

Today, we’re taking a step back to provide some basic definitions of commonly-used zoning and development termspaired with examples you might recognize in the Scenic City. 👇


Projects that provide more than one purpose, like a building with apartments on top + retail on the bottom, are referred to as mixed or multi-use. Expect combinations of housing, retail, parking, commercial, and industrial components.

Example: The downtown Food City that’s in the works will be part of a larger mixed-use development with retail + office spaces along Broad Street and six two-story townhouses along W. 13th Street.


Changing an area of land from the city’s designated use is known as rezoning. Rezoning requests could be developers looking to build a high-rise in a neighborhood with a certain building height restriction, or open a business in an area marked residential.

Example: In November, Chattanooga City Council approved rezoning Airport Inn to become permanent supportive housing.

Special Use Permit

Also known as a conditional use permit, this is granted to provide relief from regulations when land is being used in a manner not normally compatible with the zoning. It’s only granted when the intended site use is deemed appropriate and compatible with the surrounding area.

Example: Red Bank City Commission recently approved a special use permit to allow a mixed-use development at the former Save A Lot on Dayton Boulevard, though zoned for commercial use.

Principal Use

The primary activity or function of a site. A site’s principal use must be aligned with the zoning ordinances of the land it’s on.

Example: Living in a home within a residential zone is an allowable principal use.

Accessory Use

An activity or function of a site labeled subordinate or incidental.

Example: The garage or shed on your home property might be labeled an accessory use.