Business licenses are required for all businesses except home occupations. A copy of the license application is available at the Building Department. Owner-occupied businesses will be subject to inspections every other year.
Apply for Your Business License
Your first step should be to apply for a Business License at the City Offices. This will get the process going and put you in contact with the appropriate departments. There is a $200 application fee for new businesses. We strongly recommend that you apply for your Business License before signing any leases or long-term agreements in order to verify usage and zoning suitability of your site. Before completing your application, you should know the square footage of the building or space you will lease, the number of employees you expect to have (and grow to) and the number of off-street parking spaces available to your location.
Verify Zoning Requirements
Verify with the City Planner that the site you have chosen will properly accommodate your business, as there are specific zoning districts for specific types of businesses. We recommend that you consider your parking requirements when choosing a location. It is important to remember that not all adjacent parking can be considered yours (i.e. on-street parking in front of building is for everyone's use). The City Planner will be pleased to answer questions to clarify this and other zoning issues. The Planner approves the business license application and forwards it to the Building Official to continue the process. Variances from the City Code will need formal approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Certain businesses also require approval from the State of Michigan or Oakland County. The State of Michigan issues licenses for a number of different businesses including child care centers and liquor sales. Child care centers in particular have specific building code criteria. Restaurants receive approval from Oakland County. Please understand that the County and the State are independent entities, often take longer to review business proposals, and often review different items than the City will. These links are provided for your convenience.
Once you have determined that your site will accommodate your business, the City Building Official will work with you to see that the building is up to the Building Maintenance Code. If there are any changes that need to be made, they will need to be approved by the Building Official. This is especially true in instances where an older building needs to be modified with regard to Barrier Free Requirements. The City Building Official will inform you of what modifications will be required. Know that if you are changing usage of the location, it must comply with all Barrier Free Requirements for your type of business.
The Building Official can approve changes to the interior of the building; however, if you plan to change the size of the building, you will need to get approval from the Planning Commission.
Like the building itself, your grounds must also be 'up to Code.' The most common issue facing businesses regarding their property is compliance with the sign ordinance. We recommend that you obtain a copy of the sign ordinance when you apply for your business license. Code Enforcement will visit the site and give its approval or inform you of any changes that need to be made.
Receive your Certificate of Compliance
Once the building and grounds have been approved through the final inspection, the City will approve your Certificate of Compliance.
The above is an overview of the process all businesses go through when getting started. Sometimes, however, a business doesn't quite 'fit' properly with the City Code. Depending upon what the ordinances require, and what your business wishes to do, there are four possible reviews and approvals that may be required before you are issued your Certificate of Occupancy. The possible reviews are:
The City Planner will let you know if any of these reviews will be necessary and answer any questions you might have. If you feel they might apply to you, the following gives additional details on how each of these reviews takes place. Please call the City for more information at 248-658-3320.
A property owner or business owner with a proposal counter to zoning law can apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for a Variance. There is a $300 fee for this application and requires a minimum of 30 days advance notice to allow for the required legal notices.
Once a variance application is submitted, notices are sent to all property owners and occupants within 300 feet of the subject property. The ZBA will consider the request with emphasis on the applicant demonstrating a Practical Difficulty (for a non-use or dimensional variance) or Undue Hardship (for a use variance). The tests for determining a practical difficulty or undue hardship are on the ZBA application and in the city’s zoning ordinance.
The hearing is held in an open forum where any interested party has the opportunity to voice his or her opinion. The applicant, however, is usually the focal point; this being his or her opportunity to discuss the proposal. At the hearing, the City Planner presents a report of her findings to the ZBA, and as such, it is recommended that you thoroughly discuss your plans with the City Planner before the hearing.
The Zoning Board of Appeals also hears appeals of zoning decisions and under Section 138-62 interprets uses not already contained in the ordinance.
Site Plan Review
A business wishing to make any physical changes to the ‘footprint’ of their building, add parking, or significant changes to the exterior facade must apply for a Site Plan Review before the Planning Commission. There is a fee for this application and advance notice of 30 days is required.
A preliminary meeting with the City Planner before beginning this process is recommended in order to determine what issues will be discussed before the Planning Commission. The emphasis of the Planning Commission will be to ensure that the requested changes will not adversely affect the surrounding areas.
The standards for site plan approval are included in the City’s zoning ordinance. It is important to remember that the Planning Commission is considering final plans not just a concept, and that all expected modifications must be included in the presented plans.
If approved, any implementation of the plans will need to completely conform to what the Planning Commission approved. It is prudent to discuss your plans with the City Planner, your neighbors, your financial institution, and your design professional before moving through this process. These preliminary efforts will considerably ease your final review.
Special Use Approval
Certain uses are permitted as ‘of right’ within the City of Berkley. Other uses, because of their nature are considered Special Land Uses, and cannot be administratively approved.
Special Land Uses require a public hearing before the Planning Commission and receive final consideration by the City Council. The entire application process takes at least 6 weeks.
To apply for a Special Land Use approval, there is a $400 application fee and 30 days advance notice is required. A preliminary meeting with the City Planner to determine what issues will be discussed with the Planning Commission is recommended. The application will first come before the Planning Commission, who will then make a recommendation to the City Council. The emphasis of the Planning Commission is to ensure that the neighborhood will not be adversely affected by the proposed use. The standards considered in an application are outlined in the City’s zoning ordinance.
The Planning Commission also holds a public hearing where opinions of all interested parties are heard. As the applicant, you will also have an opportunity to discuss your plans. A recommendation is then forwarded to the City Council who has the final say on the matter.
Sometimes a business or property owner wishes to develop a property that is not zoned to accommodate their business. For example, perhaps the property is zoned for office purposes and the proposed business wants to open a restaurant. In this case, a rezoning is necessary (a preliminary visit with the City Planner will inform you if this is necessary).
In a rezoning, the Planning Commission holds a public hearing regarding the rezoning, where opinions of interested parties are heard. The Commission then makes a recommendation to the City Council, which in turn makes the final decision.
Unlike the previous approvals discussed earlier, a rezoning affects the City's ordinance (the current zoning map). As such, the city cannot only consider the business specifically being proposed; it also considers all of the other uses that could be permitted as 'of right' if the rezoning is adopted, the current development pattern, and the city's Master Plan. The city's zoning ordinance outlines the standards used in considering a rezoning.