UPDATE MARCH 30, 2020:  The following City of Williamsburg buildings and facilities are closed to the public through April 23:  Municipal Building, Stryker Center, Quarterpath Recreation Center, Waller Mill Park, Police Department and Fire Station (only required staff will be at work, others will be teleworking). Governor Northam issued a "stay at home" executive order through June 10, 2020. Business assistance information can be found here. The City's telephone hotline (for city service questions):  (757) 259-7200 and the Virginia Health Dept. call center (for COVID-19 questions/concerns):  (757) 594-7069.

Changing the Use of a Building

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When changing the use of a building, many important factors must be considered. These factors fall into two categories; land use or "Zoning" considerations, and "Building Code" considerations. To avoid misunderstandings as your project matures, please be frank about your intentions.


The Zoning Ordinance deals primarily with land use; how a property is used, what impact it will have on the surrounding properties and traffic flow. The City is divided into many different areas or "zones". The Zoning Ordinance is used to determine what a piece of property, within a given zone, may be used for and how this use may take place. This is how the City promotes orderly and healthy growth.

When considering a change in the use of a building, from a Zoning perspective, one must consider the following steps:

  • What is the current or most recent use of this building or property? Was this use a "legal" use of the property?
  • What is the planned use of this building or property?
  • Check the City records or Zoning Map and determine in what zone this property or building is located.
  • Does the planned new use meet the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance? Some major areas to consider are parking, building distance from property lines, lot width, lot area and architectural design. Are changes needed to meet today's zoning standards?
  • Make an appointment to talk to the Planning staff about your plans. Bring accurate plans and property dimensions.
Building Code

The Building Code deals with the structure and what it is used for and looks at aspects of fire safety, exits, and accessibility among other things. To fully evaluate a planned use, the city staff will need to understand exactly what a particular building will be used for. In this way, you can receive the most accurate code review and plan your project. The following information will be needed for a typical project, the more complete the information, the more we can help.

  • What was the building last used for? Was this a "legal" use of the building? When was the building built?
  • What do you want to do in the building? How many people will be involved? Will anyone else be using the building or part of it for something else? Will anyone be sleeping in the building?
  • What is the building built out of? What are the walls made of? What are the floor and roof structures made of?
  • Is your building and its facilities accessible for persons with physical disabilities?

The answers to all of these questions will have some effect on whether a particular property can have its use changed. There are 3 options to consider when changing the use group or changing the occupancy within a use group.

  • USBC, Virginia Construction Code, 2003 edition Section 103.3, Change of Occupancy and IBC Section 3406, Change of Occupancy
  • USBC, Virginia Construction Code 2003 edition Section 103.10 and IBC Section 3410 Compliance Alternative with USBC amendments
  • USBC, Virginia Construction Code 2003 edition Section 103.6, USBC Virginia Rehabilitation Code 2003 edition, 2003 International Existing Building Code (Chapter 8 or Chapter 12) with USBC amendments.

The Zoning Ordinance requires sites to be partially brought up to current standards when use or use groups are changed. When this information is assimilated into a plan, the staff of the Zoning and Inspections Department will be glad to assist you in bringing your project to fruition. Please call us if you have any questions.

  • Zoning Department: (757)220-6130
  • Codes Compliance: (757)220-6136