December 3, 2012 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Are a small corner market and a major grocery chain store typically subject to the same licensing requirements?

A building on our block has been grandfathered into our residential-only neighborhood as a market, which everyone understood to mean selling dry goods. For years, its tenants have also cooked there and used it as a restaurant. The owners are now recruiting a new tenant by advertising it as a "market," leaning on the idea that major stores like Publix and Kroger's cook on site for their delis, and may have small eating areas. I can't find a legal definition of market in local or state code. But is there some custom of the trade that distinguishes a Publix from a mom-and-pop operation?
posted by mmiddle to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't have an answer, but in your research, you should be accounting for franchises as well, which are distinct from branches of a chain store in that they are independently owned, but branded/supported by the main entity.
posted by griphus at 12:36 PM on December 3, 2012

Are you referring to 'licenses' or perhaps 'permits'? Because there is a difference..... a lawyer, for instance, needs a license to practice law, but he needs a zoning permit to open an office. If new owners want to operate either a market or a restaurant there, then they will have to get their own permits to operate, because it's *extremely* unlikely that the current tenants permits can be transferred to new tenants. YMMV, and call a lawyer to be sure.
posted by easily confused at 12:45 PM on December 3, 2012

Best answer: The distinctions you seek may not show up when you try to compare big-store with small-store.

Try examining local codes governing cooking and serving of food. Do those codes (standards) correlate to the number of seats for people to be served, for example? Do the codes correlate to the nature and detail of the cooking process (e.g., simply microwaving food vs. full-on grill, let's say)?

It sounds like you have an agenda. You may not be able to prevent anything, proactively, but could quickly get the local Health/Sanitation department in action when it comes to compliance once any operation is in place.
posted by John Borrowman at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks - I did mean permits, not licenses. And I guess I have a qualified agenda: the old tenants' operations were really unsafe as well as greasy, smelly, created parking problems. If the owner could find a culinary professional and create parking in back, I'd be fine with it. But then again, if zoning or custom distinguishes between the two, the owner would benefit from knowing that before he pumps any more money into cooking and restaurant equipment.
posted by mmiddle at 12:53 PM on December 3, 2012

It's very hard to answer this question without knowing the location. Laws about food sales and preparation vary widely even within a state, assuming you are in the US, and even that is an assumption.
posted by ambrosia at 12:56 PM on December 3, 2012

I infer from your previous questions that you are in Nashville. If so, you may find useful the discussion of "Change of a Nonconforming Use" on the Nashville Board of Zoning Appeals website:
A nonconforming use is a use that was legally established at the time it was located on a property, but through rezoning, the use is no longer permitted in the zone district. This is a use that is often referred to as "grandfathered".

The BZA may grant a change in use on a property if they feel the change would be less impactive to the surrounding area than the current use. An example of this would be a market exists on the property and the owner wishes to sell it and the buyer wants to establish a doctor's office in the building. Assuming the doctor's office is open during normal business hours and has adequate parking, the BZA would likely grant such a use. They would probably find the market was open 7 days a week up into the evening hours, which likely generated more traffic thus having a higher degree of impact on the surrounding area.

Reverse this from an existing doctor's office to a change in use such as a market and the BZA would likely find this has a higher degree of impact thus denying the request.
From the facts you've provided, this all seems like a non-trivial question of zoning and real estate law, and exactly what you should be looking for probably depends on the exact details of the prior zoning plan (if any) under which the market operated, what the market was doing when the new zoning plan was put into place, and various legal issues specific to your jurisdiction.

If it's important to the owner or new tenant to figure out their legal position, they'll need a local land use lawyer. At the same time, the law on the ground and the law on the books often don't match in local government or land use law-- so they may just be sailing along and seeing what happens.
posted by willbaude at 2:06 PM on December 3, 2012

Typically subject to the same requirements, yes -- the idea is that the law is colorblind and objective. This of course can be subverted in the name of economic development or other benefit to the community, but that's why the ZBA exists, so that this is done in public and transparently.

A building on our block has been grandfathered into our residential-only neighborhood as a market

Here's where you need to be specific. Is it actually a lot that is zoned residential, but has a non-conforming use that has been grandfathered in? Or is it in fact a lot that is zoned differently from the rest of the block, which is very possible -- especially for a low-impact local business?

dry goods .... restaurant

So the dry goods aspect is grandfathered, or the restaurant use is grandfathered? It seems you're saying that both uses have been in place for some time, and it also appears that you're saying the new tenant the owner is seeking will have both uses. So what exactly is the new nonconforming use here? You almost seem more concerned about whether the operator is a chain than what they're doing.

Also, to continue clarification, zoning and permits aren't the same thing either. Zoning can allow a number of commercial uses of a property, for instance, but each one may need a permit from a different government entity. A business license, a liquor license, a (state) hairdresser's license, a federal hazardous materials license, etc. The license may or may not depend on whether the zoning or a zoning variance (what the ZBA gives) is in place. To build or expand or change the building in some way they would likely need a permit, as for adding parking or cooking equipment. These also may or may not depend on the zoning. There are multiple layers of authority and oversight here.
posted by dhartung at 2:36 PM on December 3, 2012

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