Your guide to understanding development news in Sacramento

Become a development terminology expert faster than you can say “special use permit for a mixed-use zone.”

City Hall in Sacramento, CA

City Hall is “the room where it happens,” as Aaron Burr would say.

Photo via City of Sacramento by Carlos Eliason

Table of Contents

If you want to be a development detective but find yourself stumped by the terminology in various city releases + news reports, never fear.

Here are some definitions of common terms paired with ongoing projects and examples you might recognize in the 916.


Projects that provide more than one purpose in the community, like a building with apartments on top and retail shops on the bottom. Expect to see combinations of housing, retail, parking, commercial, and industrial components.

Think: The Railyards’ residential component, The A.J., is a mixed-use project with 5,000-sqft of retail space beneath 345 residential units.


Changing the boundaries of land from the city’s designated use. Examples of rezoning requests might be developers looking to build a high-rise in a neighborhood with a certain building height restriction, or opening a business in a residential area.

Pro tip: Check zoning information by address using the County Parcel Viewer tool.

Special-use permit

Granted to provide relief from regulations when land is being used in a manner not normally compatible with its zoning. Only granted when the site’s intended use is deemed appropriate and compatible with the surrounding area.

Pro tip: Schedule an appointment with the Office of Planning and Environmental Review to make sure your project qualifies before filling out all the necessary paperwork.

Enterprise zones

Areas of the city where building a site earns you incentives, including a break on real estate taxes and money back from relocation costs, machinery + equipment, and construction permits. The goal is to promote economic development, so only certain commercial and industrial users qualify.

Pro tip: The City of Sacramento refers to these as Opportunity Zones — there are 29 in total.

Single-family home

A freestanding building that shares no walls with other homes or structures. “Single family” is a type of zoning district in the city.

Think: Much of Land Park and East Sac is zoned as R-1: Standard Single-Family Zone.

Multifamily home

One building that contains multiple housing units. Multifamily is a type of zoning district in the city.

Think: Duplexes, town homes, and apartment complexes are typically R-3: Multifamily Zones.

Principal use

The primary activity or function of a site. A site’s principal use must align with the zoning ordinances of its land.

Example: Living in a home within a residential zone is an allowable principal use.

Accessory use

An activity or function of a site labeled subordinate or incidental.

Example: In Sacramento’s tough housing market, many local residents and city officials are turning to accessory dwelling units as part of a solution.

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