It's no coincidence that all the fast food chains are in one area of town and none are situated among a row of private homes on the lake. There's more to this than just preventing a lovely view from being ruined. Communities enact zoning laws to maintain the structure, property values, and way of life in neighborhoods. Zoning laws are primarily designed to separate commercial and residential areas. However, there's often much more to it than that. Zoning laws may also guard against a business opening up that is too noisy, smelly, or rowdy; uses hazardous materials; or promotes or sells materials unsuitable for minors.
Beyond the ordinances regulating which kind of business may be operated in a certain area, there may be other restrictions. For example, signage may be limited to a certain size or approval may be required for advertisements.
Some towns can provide you with a color-coded map showing the various zoning districts. Having this visual may be helpful as you plan your location. Some towns also have mixed zoning, which may be good to know about. Contact your local city, town, or county clerk's office for maps and other information.
It's usually fairly easy to get a basic idea of the general zoning laws in a specific neighborhood by simply driving around. A fast food restaurant may not be found on the main commercial street of a residential neighborhood. A topless club will not be down the block from a school. A bar won't pop up on a quiet residential street.
Even a home-based business can be subject to zoning requirements. If you are anticipating a steady flow of clients to and from your home, or have commercial vehicles making deliveries, your neighbors may have a surprise for you in the form of a zoning restriction.
Check out all local zoning ordinances before you set up shop. Some will actually surprise you, while others are those that you would expect. The county clerk, community planning board, and city hall are places to go for more information.