OpenCounter staff and documentation uses certain terms, which we define here. These terms are usually very similar to those used by cities, but may have certain nuanced differences.

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—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". In areas where a Special Use Permit is required, the map will display the yellow color associated with "Conditional" in the legend.

When the user drops a pin on such an area, a pop-up will let them know that the specific conditional permission is Special Use Permit.

Clearance / Land Use Permission

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".

We commonly treat "land use permission" as synonymous with "clearance", and use them interchangeably.


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


A catch-all term for the approvals and documents needed in order to start a business. OpenCounter uses "permits" to refer to permits and licenses of all types, and to refer to collections of fees such as Impact Fees.


A cost required to obtain a permit. Permits will generally have at least one fee.


When applicants use the Business Portal, Residential Portal, or Special Events Portal, their scoping session describes a Project.

We used to refer to Projects as "Applications", but that terminology changed in March 2018 with a redesign of administrative tools.

OpenCounter portals start by guiding applicants to scope their project, but do not immediately fill out permit applications. Applications are either PDFs attached to permits for users to download, or "integrated" online applications available as part of our Workflow product.

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.


The process by which OpenCounter project managers and city project managers set up a city's zoning code, permits, fee schedules, etc. in OpenCounter portals.

Configuration begins after contract finalization, and ends with Internal Launch.

Internal Launch
When a city approves the portals for public use after testing by staff and subject matter experts (SMEs), this is considered "Internal Launch". This moves the project out of the Configuration phase and into Launch/Support, which includes ongoing maintenance.

External Launch
When a city announces the portals to the public and link to them on the City website, we consider this the "External Launch".


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


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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