OpenCounter Terminology

Zoning & Planning

Zone / District

A zone, also commonly called a district, is a city-defined collection of polygons that all share the same zoning district name.


The list of possible outcomes for a use in a given location. The most common permissions are "Permitted", "Conditional", and "Not Permitted". Permission names are often particular to each city: for example, in Gainesville, FL, there is no "Conditional" permission, but there is a "Special Use Permit" permission that functions similarly to the "Conditional" permission in other cities.

Permission Category

No matter the name of the permission, OpenCounter and ZoningCheck offer four permission categories: Permitted, Conditional, Not Permitted, and Other. Every permission must be assigned one of these categories, as the category, and not the permission name, determine the color displayed on the map.

To continue with the Gainesville example from above, the "Special Use Permit" permission has a permission category of "Conditional". This will display


A clearance is the permission given to a use on a particular zone; it is the intersection of a location and a use.

Example: If the land use "exercise studios" is permitted on the zoning district "Downtown Commercial", the clearance is "permitted".


A division of land, usually defined by a county assessor's database.


A catch-all term for the documents needed in order to start a business. OpenCounter uses "permits" to refer to permits and licenses of all types.


A cost required to obtain a permit.


When applicants come to OpenCounter, by working through the site, they fill out a digital permitting application.

Zoning Inquiry

A request for city staff to determine whether a proposed business is allowed in a given location.

With OpenCounter, zoning inquiries are digital forms which submit additional information from ZoningCheck, including street address, applicants' answers to questions that may affect whether the use is permitted, parcel identifier, and more.


Internal or Technical

User / Applicant

A person visiting OpenCounter or ZoningCheck, who is interested in exploring a city's zoning or applying for a new business.


The process by which a city's zoning code, permits, fee schedules, and preferred text are set up in OpenCounter or ZoningCheck.


A function written in a coding language inside OpenCounter. Expressions provide the logic in OpenCounter.

Expressions are most often attached to fees, determining either the cost of the fee, or whether the fee is applicable at all. Some expressions are attached to pages, making decisions about whether or not to show a page based on the applicant's previous answers.

You may hear OpenCounter staff to refer to "fee expressions", which determine the applicability of a fee, or "fee calculations", which determine the cost of the fee when it is applicable.

Rule / Sidebar Question

Cities often encode additional conditions affecting a land use as footnotes in the zoning code. OpenCounter encodes these footnotes as "rules", setting the condition in the database.

A "radius rule" is a rule performs a buffer operation around a given geometry. For example, if marijuana establishments are not permitted within 500 feet of a school, we will create a radius rule, or buffer, of 500 feet around a schools layer.

Stylized PDF

By default, OpenCounter outputs PDFs with the answers to permit application questions in a standard, unstyled format.

Stylized PDFs are the city's own PDFs, output by OpenCounter with applicants' answers to questions filled in on the PDF itself. Cities can download PDF applications in the format they're used to seeing, with the benefit of OpenCounter's digital intake process.




A collection of distinct polygons making up one geographical unit. For example, while dozens or hundreds of shapes can define a given zoning district, together, they can be represented as one multipolygon.



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