When starting a business in Saipan you of course need a Business License. What many people don’t realize is that to obtain a Business License, in most circumstances, you will have to first obtain a Zoning Permit. Obtaining the Zoning Permit can be the most difficult step in the process of opening a new business on Saipan.1

The Zoning Permit is currently regulated by the Amended Saipan Zoning Law of 20132. This article will give you an idea of what documents may be required for your Commercial Zoning Permit Application so that you can obtain your Business License.

What are the current zoning districts?

Under the Amended Saipan Zoning Law of 2013, there are 11 zoning districts:

  1. Agricultural
  2. Beach Road
  3. Garapan Core
  4. Garapan East
  5. Industrial
  6. Mixed Commercial
  7. Public Resource
  8. Rural
  9. Tourist Resort
  10. Village Commercial
  11. Village Residential

What are the use categories under the current law?

  1. Agricultural Uses
  2. Residential Uses
  3. Home-Based Business
  4. Hotels, Restaurant, Adult
  5. Office Uses
  6. Retail Sales and Services
  7. Public and Civic Uses
  8. Recreational Uses
  9. Industrial Uses
  10. Utility Uses
  11. Temporary Uses

How do I confirm if my proposed business is allowed?

The first step is to check the current Official Saipan Zoning Map to confirm the zoning district your property is located in. This is the link to the Official Saipan Zoning Map.

Next, check Table 1 under Article 4, Section 404 of the Amended Saipan Zoning Law of 2013. Here is the link.

What should I submit with my application?

In addition to your application form, depending on your application type, the following types of documents might be requested:

1. Site Development Plan:
(a) Proposed structures with dimensions
(b) Existing structures with dimensions
(c) Setbacks (distance of the structure from the boundary lines on the front, side, and rear yards)
(d) Property lines
(e) Adjacent street names
(f) Parking with dimensions
(g) Sidewalks with dimensions
(h) Landscaping with dimensions
(i) Parking light posts

2. Floor Plan with Dimensions

3. Building Materials and Elevations Plans (designs)

4. Rental or Lease Agreement

5. Photo(s) of Existing Building or Unit Façade and Parking Area

6. Notarized Authorization Letter (if required)

Plan/Map must be stamped and signed by the maker of the plan and applicant.

If I open a business at my home, is that a “home business” under the Saipan Zoning Law of 2013?

Under the current zoning law, your business is a home business if it is a business that:
(1) Is conducted within a dwelling by members of the immediate family that reside in the dwelling;
(2) Has no more than one outside employee;
(3) The primary use of the home shall be as a residence;
(4) Involves no alteration of the exterior structure except play equipment or fencing;
(5) Has no effect on the general character of the neighborhood;
(6) Offers no specialized service to groups of more than 5 persons except a home day care which may serve up to 6 children; and
(7) Offers no goods bought for the express purpose of resale.

If your business is a home business, instead of applying for a commercial zoning permit, you can apply for a Home Business Permit at the zoning office.

How many parking spaces should I reserve for my business?

The number of the parking lot you need to reserve depends on the size and business type of your property. The current requirements are listed below. The zoning department is very strict about their zoning requirements. It is beneficial for the client to check the requirements and draw lines for the parking area before submitting the application.

Table 1. Residential Parking Requirements

Residential Use Required Parking Spaces (min)
Dwelling unit – single family 2.0 per dwelling unit
Dwelling unit – multifamily
   Studio 1.0 per dwelling unit
   One-bedroom unit 1.0 per dwelling unit
   Two-bedroom unit 1.5 per dwelling unit
   Three-bedroom or more unit 2.0 per dwelling unit
Retirement home 0.8 per dwelling unit
Rest home, nursing, convalescent home, institutional residential 0.3 per bed
Congregate care facility 0.5 per dwelling unit

Table 2. Non-Residential Parking Requirements

Non-Residential Use Required Parking Spaces (min)
Auto rental office 3.0 per 1,000 sf plus 1 per rental vehicle
Adult Gambling Machine Business 1.0 per machine
Church, synagogue and temple

1.0 per 4 fixed seats plus

1.0 per 50 sf of gross floor area without fixed seats for assembly purposes

Daycare facility or pre-school 2.0 plus 1.0 per employee
Financial institution 3.0 per 1,000 sf
Food store or market 3.0 per 1,000 sf
Government building, studio, professional or business office 3.0 per 1,000 sf
Hotel or motel

1.0 per room plus

1.0 per employee on any given shift

Medical office 3.0 per 1,000 sf
Manufacturing 1.0 per 1,000 sf
Personal service without fixed station 3.0 per 1,000 sf
Personal service with fixed station 1.0 per station
Restaurant, cafeteria or snack bar 8.0 per 1,000 sf
Retail sale or service store 3.0 per 1,000 sf
1.0 per employee on any given shift
Service station, vehicle repair or vehicle maintenance

3.0 per facility plus

1.0 per service bay plus

3.0 per 1,000 sf for store

Schools 3.0 plus 1.0 per classroom

1.0 per 4 fixed seats and/or

1.0 per 100 sf of gross floor area without fixed seats for assembly purposes

Wholesale or warehouse 1.0 per 1,000 sf

If I don’t have enough space for parking, what should I do?

Under Section 902 of the zoning law, an applicant can apply for a modification of the required number of parking spaces. The applicant should provide justification in the application, and the justification needs to be prepared by a qualified professional approved by the Administrator of the zoning board.

My proposed business is marked as “conditional use.” What does that mean?

That means your proposed business is only allowed after receiving approval for a conditional use permit. For all kinds of conditional use businesses, the business must: (a) be consistent with all applicable provisions of an adopted comprehensive land use plan; (b) be compatible with the existing or allowable uses of adjacent properties and surrounding neighborhood; (c) employ reasonable measures of fencing, buffering, traffic restraints, sign and light controls, and other appropriate measures to protect the surrounding properties and adjoining districts; (d) demonstrate that adequate public facilities- including roads, drainage, potable water, sanitary sewer, and police and fire protection- exists, or will exist, to serve their purpose when such facilities are needed; (e) not create undue traffic congestion; (f) not adversely affect the public health, safety, or welfare; (g) meet specific requirements for the type of conditional use and all other applicable provisions of this law; and (h) adequately avoid or mitigate unacceptable or significant adverse impacts to environmental elements including storm water runoff, erosion, noise, air, including odors, wildlife habitat, public access, view shed, and other factors identified by the Board.

In addition to the general requirements listed here, different kinds of facilities will face different kinds of requirements. Conditional use is regulated by Article 7 of the Saipan Zoning Law of 2013. Before submitting your application, it is very important to check all requirements in the statute. If you have questions regarding your specific business, you can contact the Zoning Board directly at (670) 234-9661/2/3 to confirm the requirements in advance.

I conduct my business over the Internet, and I don’t have a physical store. Do I still need a Zoning Permit?

Unfortunately, right now Zoning is taking the position that you do need a Zoning Permit. They will accept an application that lists your apartment or even a hotel room as the location for your online business.

Zoning wants me to submit my Standard Operating Procedure. I consider that proprietary and I am worried my competitors will see it. Do I have to submit it?

There is no legal requirement that you submit and SOP, but Zoning might require it. All of the records at Zoning should be open to the public under the Open Government Act so it is possible for your competitors to obtain your SOP. You can object to the requirement, but it will delay your Permit and that will delay your Business License.

How long will it take to get the Zoning Permit?

Under the Regulations, the Zoning Administrator has 21 days to determine if the Application is in compliance with the Zoning Act. If the Administrator determines that it is not, the applicant is given 28 days to respond in a second submittal, and the Administrator has another 14 days to review the second submittal.3 In actuality, it can take only a few days to obtain an approval, or several months.
1 Zoning Permits are presently only required on Saipan. Tinian and Rota have not adopted their own zoning law yet.
2 The Zoning Act can be found at 10 CMC §3511 et. seq. Zoning Regulations can be found at Title 165 of the Administrative Code.
3 10 CMC §1304(c).
Anthea Yuan is an attorney with the Dotts Law Office and practices Tax Law. She received an LLM in Tax from Northwestern University, graduating with honors.
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