How to Find Space for Your Business

Planning an Office Move: Applying for Permits

By  David Haug


Applying for Permits

Your office move is still on track and you’ve arrived at Week 11. This is when you need to start applying for your business permits.

Nearly all businesses need some sort of permit. However, the permits you need vary by state and municipality, so it is essential that you do your homework. The Small Business Administration has a wealth of information here and here, including federal regulations and links to permitting information for each state and U.S. territory. Locally, Madison has a list of licenses and permits here.

When it comes to permits, you need to ask yourself two critical questions:

  1. Do I have the permits I need to open or start my business? For a restaurant, this might include a liquor license. For a daycare, you will need to have a child care license.
  2. Do I have the permits I need to stay in business? Think about who will come to inspect you — if you have a restaurant, this will include health inspectors. Also, consider what codes you’ll need to follow in your municipality.


As a business owner, you will need to pay attention to zoning when looking at moving offices. For example, doggie daycares and kennels usually can’t be in the middle of a residential neighborhood because of noise issues. To learn more about Madison zoning regulations, click here; for Dane County zoning, click here.

Non-Conforming Use Permits

Another thing to consider when you’re planning an office move is if your new location will require a non-conforming use permit (or the continuation of a non-conforming use permit). These are permits that businesses must have if their location is not officially zoned for their use. For example, this could include a used bookstore in a residential neighborhood.

Municipalities almost always require their governing boards approve non-conforming use permits — even if your business will just continue the location’s use. If this is your situation, be prepared.


You might also need to investigate rezoning for your business if you want to permanently change your property’s classification. If that’s the case, it’s not uncommon for you to need assistance from the municipality’s engineering department. You may find that you need to develop around wetlands on the property. You might need to work around other utilities crossing the property or you might have drainage, sewer and electrical considerations.

Comprehensive plans

Most municipalities have a comprehensive plan that explains how the community plans to develop. In Madison, for example, the East Washington corridor used to be an industrial/manufacturing area. Now, in accordance with the city’s comprehensive plan, developers are turning the area into a hotspot of offices and multifamily housing. When developers want to build, they can look at municipal comprehensive plans and use those to guide them. The closer their plans are to what the city wants, the easier it is to get approval for their projects.

If you’re building a new building in Madison, you will need to meet with the Urban Design Commission. This group provides guidance for site, architectural and landscape design. This ensures that a 50-story vertical tower won’t be built right on the street They also can steer you toward things like ways to make your business more eco-friendly, such as green construction materials, energy conservation, geothermal heating and cooling, etc.

If your business is in the city of Madison, you will need to talk to the staff at the Department of Planning, Community and Economic Development. It is vital that you keep them in the loop and assure them that your plans are in line with their plans. You also should talk to local alderman and the neighborhood association.

We can help!

Look closely at your specific business use. Do this early on in your search criteria and as you move forward with permits make sure you are going in the right direction. Talk to Lighthouse CRE – there is a lot to manage here!

If you haven’t downloaded it yet, you can get our Lease Timeline Checklist to help you plan your new office. This is the type of framework we use for all our clients at LCRE. We will provide a customized version for you based on your specific needs in retail, office, or industrial.  We help our clients find the best spaces to lease and also the best properties to purchase.

About Lighthouse Commercial Real Estate

Did you know Lighthouse Commercial Real Estate offers commercial real estate agent matchmaking services? If you have a commercial real estate agent need, visit Lighthouse Commercial Real Estate and request a free initial consultation. We will answer any questions you could possibly have about commercial real estate. Once we understand your commercial real estate needs, we’ll provide you with the guidance you need to choose the top commercial real estate agent for your needs. Contact Lighthouse Commercial Real Estate today!

David Haug

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About the Author

David Haug is a Madison WI commercial real estate broker. He is passionate about helping clients, customers, and friends succeed in finding property, selling and leasing property, and investing in real estate. He is also a raging Badger fan. #OnWisconsin Baby!
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