Your guide to understanding development news in San Jose, CA

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

The exterior construction of the Paseo mixed-use development.

The Paseo mixed-use development project in the works at 201 S. Second St.

Photo by SJtoday

Table of Contents

If you want to be a development detective but find yourself turned around 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 great 408.


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: Google’s upcoming Downtown West Transit Village will have plenty of mixed-use spaces.


Changing an area 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: Follow this interactive map that outlines local properties being rezoned in accordance with Senate Bill 1333.

Special-use permit

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

Pro-tip: Consider this form when differentiating planning and special use permits.

A map of Google's Downtown West Mixed-Use Plan.

This map shows the different uses each parcel of land will be utilized for.

Screenshot via City of San José website

Enterprise zones

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

Think: The 18-square mile Enterprise zone in San Jose includes downtown, along with its retail, commercial, and tech business headquarters.

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 Willow Glen and Berryessa is zoned as R-1 Single-Family Residence District.

Multifamily home

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

Example: The label R-2 and R-M indicate multifamily residential districts on this map.

Principal use

The primary activity or function of a site. A site’s principal use must be aligned with the zoning ordinances of the land it’s on.

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 Silicon Valley’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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