A special use permit is a legal permission to engage in an activity normally barred by zoning regulations or rules pertaining to the use of an area like a park. Special use permits are exceptions to the rules granted when people can show a compelling necessity. In locations like parks and streets, they are used to control use and limit disruptive activities like filming, holding fairs, and so forth. People who fail to obtain a special use permit can be fined and their activities may be closed down.
One type of special use permit involves permission to build something not allowed by zoning law. For example, people might want to establish a hospital in a district of a city not zoned for these types of facilities. They can argue that the hospital's placement would be beneficial to the community and receive a zoning exception to build. Likewise, people can request permission to put in parking lots, high density developments, and so forth in regions that are not zoned for these applications.
People can also ask for special use permits in the context of events. Things like filming, weddings, street fairs, and protests usually require permits because they can be disruptive uses of an area. In addition, public access may be limited during the event and this can create a hardship for members of the community. A special use permit is needed to allow people to plan ahead for the event and to prevent people from taking over public locations without prior warning.
To obtain a special use permit, people need to fill out an application detailing the nature of the activity and providing information about why they need an exception, in some cases. The application will be reviewed, often by a group of people. For significant issues like new construction or shutting down a street for several days, a public hearing may be required. At the hearing, people with an interest in the matter testify, including the people applying for the permit, as well as members of the community who would be impacted by it.
People can look up lists of special use permits granted through the office where city or town records are kept. If there are concerns that an activity or event is not permitted, this is a good place to check. Unpermitted uses can be reported to law enforcement, as well as people responsible for enforcing public codes, like building inspectors.