How to obtain a glamping site permit in North America

Posted on 22 January 2024

Glamping has become a thriving and lucrative market in North America. The North American Glamping Report 2O22 found that the industry experienced a 310% increase in short-term glamping rentals over a ten-year period. It’s estimated that around 17 million households took at least one glamping trip in 2021. That’s a 155% increase from 2019.

The US and Canada have become fertile ground for the growth of glamping businesses, but getting a site up and running requires a permit from the relevant authorities. You’ll need to navigate the zoning laws that apply to the land you use for your glampsite. That can involve a lot of hassle and delay, but it’s a lot easier to make progress with the right approach.

 

What are zoning laws?

Local governments have “zones” categorised according to how the city or county expects the land within that zone to be used (for example: Open Space, Agricultural, Rural Residential, Commercial.)  Each zone category has a list of permitted uses.

You won’t find “glamping” listed as a permitted use, so you’ll need to look for related permitted uses like these:

  • Campgrounds
  • Camps
  • Retreats
  • Temporary dwellings
  • Short-term rentals
  • Hotels and motels

Whether or not a glampsite fits within any of those categories depends on various factors, including how the use is defined in the zoning laws and how much the officials adhere to the code. This can vary enormously between different counties and cities.

Some zones have an overlay district, also known as an overlay zone, subject to additional regulations. They are often used in zoning codes to preserve sensitive environmental features or historic buildings, as well as prevent development on unstable or vulnerable land.

No matter where you’re looking to set up your site, one thing is for certain: you’ll need to do some local research to be sure that your proposals are viable.

How to research a zoning district

To do the necessary research, you’ll need to access the zoning map showing zoning districts and boundaries in the area. These maps are often available on the zoning authority’s website. Counties provide online GIS Mapping services to allow easy access and visual display of governmental information. GIS maps provide lots of information about land, much of which you won’t need, so it helps filter out the unnecessary detail and focus on how the land is zoned.

If you identify a permitted use that potentially fits glamping, you’ll need to check the definitions section of the ordinance to confirm that it does. Definitions will vary between different authorities. Within the definition there may be reference to a facility with (or without) permanent structures which may determine the type of glamping unit you’re allowed to use. You will also need to check the regulations which apply to each permitted use.

As well as looking for areas that have suitable categories of permitted use, you may also want to consider areas that have relaxed regulations for alternative housing options, such as domes, yurts, and treehouses.

 

The value of researching your zones

Doing as much initial research as possible is vital. You don’t want to invest in a set of glamping units only to discover that your venture is a non-starter due to zone restrictions.

Doing your homework is also the most effective way to speed up the approval of your permit.  A zoning official’s job is to provide information and administer the zoning law. They are not there as an expert glamping consultant to guide you through every step required to set up your business, so it pays to do get familiar with the precise language of zoning ordinance, identify land which includes the right type of permitted use, and refer to specifics in relation to your query.

For example, “how do I set up a glamping site on this land?” is a question that prompts far more questions than answers. The zoning official might not even know what glamping is.

You’ll get further, faster if you do your initial research and make your first query something like this:

“I’ve checked the zoning ordinances and I believe my proposed development of ten geodome units and associated utilities fits within the definition of Campground, which is one of this zone’s permitted uses. Can you please confirm this?”

This way, you’re demonstrating your diligence and willingness to engage with the detail.  You’re also making the official’s job easier while making it harder for them to deny a permit. The conversation that follows is likely to be far more productive.

 

Conditional Use Permits

If you own land that’s not zoned for any use related to glamping, you can apply for a conditional use permit (CUP).

A CUP is a zoning exception that allows you to use your site in non-conforming ways.  The application process varies between cities and counties, but ultimately you will be expected to present your case at a hearing with the zoning authority.

It’s another process which benefits from investing time in research. You’ll need to highlight positive impacts and demonstrate that the use dovetails with existing zoning laws that are helpful to the community.  You’ll also need to show that you have suitable space and amenities. You’ll be asked about layout, access and landscaping. You’ll need to address any potential concerns including noise, traffic and variants that conflict with the overall nature of the community. It certainly helps to consult anyone near or neighbouring the land, community organisations, and even the town council.

 

Applying for a permit and complying with zoning regulations might sound like a burden, but it’s better to think more positively about the process. It can crystallise your thoughts, address issues you hadn’t previously considered and help you to develop a more robust business plan.

 

Need more advice?

TruDomes’ customer support team is here to provide advice. We are experts in helping US glampsites to maximise their revenue. We also have a warehouse in Utah ready to ship a wide range of glamping domes to customers in the US and Canada.

For further information, please get in touch and we’d be happy to help!

You can call us on +1 435 260 4489 or email [email protected]

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