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Conditional Use Permits/Land Use Ordinances for Alcohol Outlets

Description of Strategy

Local regulatory authorities can identify the appropriate locations within their jurisdiction where alcohol may be sold or consumed. They can also decide how alcohol may be distributed and marketed by way of conditional use permits and land use ordinances (Ashe, Jernigan, Kline, & Galaz, 2003). Conditional use permits, sometimes called “special use permits” or “special exceptions,” are a refinement of zoning powers—whereby the government makes exceptions for specific uses of land otherwise prohibited by general zoning controls as long as the property owner meets certain conditions (Fulton, 1999). Limiting the number of local conditional use permits for alcohol-related events reduces the retail availability of alcohol within a community. This strategy relies on local regulatory and land use powers to decrease retail availability of alcohol (Mosher & Reynolds, 1999).

Also known as...

Alcohol permit processing, special use permits, special exceptions to zoning laws

Discussion of Effectiveness


A 2003 review of land use planning literature suggests that land use regulations are an effective public health advocacy tool to lessen negative effects of alcohol retail outlets in neighborhoods, but the review does not provide a quantitative assessment of the effectiveness (Ashe, Jernigan, Kline, & Galaz, 2003). A study looking at eight local alcohol policies, including conditional use permits, found that none of the local alcohol-policy ratings were associated with adolescent drinking, but overall outlet density was positively related to alcohol use and heavy drinking (Paschall, MGrube, Thomas, Cannon, & Treffers, 2012).
While there is limited evidence evaluating the effectiveness of conditional use permits and land use ordinances on alcohol-related outcomes, they can reduce the retail availability of alcohol (Mosher & Reynolds, 1999). See “Limit and Restrict the Location and Density of Alcohol Retail Outlets” for more information on strategies that reduce retail availability of alcohol (pg. 91).