Zoning laws and regulations are implemented by municipalities and local governments as well as other governmental agencies. These laws exist to control the type of buildings as well as other structures constructed on various types of land in a particular geographical area. Often, the goal of zoning laws is to create a sense of uniformity in a neighborhood or business district.

Requests can be made to the local zoning authority to allow for a variance, or an exception, from the regular zoning rules. Variances are reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the local zoning agency or board. If a variance is approved, it is not a change in the zoning rules and regulations, but rather, an approved exception to the zoning law.

What are Some Examples of Zoning Variances?

Oftentimes, exceptions to zoning laws are granted when a zoning ordinance creates a unique hardship for a property owner. When this occurs, the agency that oversees the zoning laws may grant a zoning variance.

An example of a zoning area variance might occur due to a unique hardship for the property owner, as demonstrated in the following hypothetical situation:

  • A property owner has an oddly-shaped, smaller lot than most of the other ones in the neighborhood. Assume the zoning law for building a shed in this neighborhood states that the shed must be built at least 15 feet from the property boundary line. However, due to the property owner’s oddly shaped lot and size, there is only a maximum of 10 feet of space from the property line to the potential shed building sight. Because of the unique lot configuration, the property owner is unable to adhere to the zoning regulation and thus can request and will most likely be granted a zoning variance for building their shed.

Zoning area variances allow for relaxation of zoning regulations that may pertain to dimensional restrictions, if a property owner can show that adherence is impossible or impracticable.

Another example of a zoning variance can occur in the following situation:

  • A homeowner wishes to add an extension to their home. Due to the potential of blocking the local lake’s view from other homeowners, there is a local ordinance that only allows for home additions to be added to the ground level of a home. Second story additions are not allowed. This particular home already has a second story and there is no view of the lake from the property or any of the adjacent properties. The homeowner wishes to add to the existing second story of their home and will apply for a zoning variance. Because of the unique circumstances, the zoning board in this example may grant the property owner’s variance request.

Whether or not a zoning variance will be granted depends on several factors, including the property itself as well as the purpose of the ordinance.

What is the Difference Between an Area Variance and a Use Variance?

An area variance is an exception to a zoning ordinance wherein the property in question may not comply with the standards set in the ordinance due to the unique shape, dimensions or location of the property. Area variances are typically more common than use variances.

Use variances occur when a property owner utilizes, or ‘uses,’ their property in a fashion that is atypical to the neighborhood or area. An example of a use variance can occur when a small pizzeria restaurant is allowed to be open and run in a neighborhood otherwise filled with family homes.

What is the Cost of Obtaining a Zoning Variance?

In order to obtain a zoning variance, various steps must be taken. The particulars depend on where one resides and the location of the property. Most jurisdictions require fees in association with permits and zoning variances. It is best to discuss the fee structure with the local municipality that regulates zoning in your area or to contact an experienced property attorney to discuss your situation.

Can a Neighbor Complain About or Stop a Zoning Variance?

Many jurisdictions require that information regarding potential zoning variances be posted or somehow advertised to the local community before final approval. Oftentimes, an informational sheet is posted on the property describing the particulars of the variance.

The notion behind the posting is to allow neighbors and others in the community, that may be affected by the variance, to voice their concerns to the local municipality. If the concerns and complaints of the neighbors are valid, an administrative hearing may be held to determine the impact of the variance on the neighbors.

Should I Call an Attorney Regarding My Zoning Variance Questions?

Obtaining a zoning variance requires detailed knowledge about the local zoning regulations as well as the likelihood that deviations from those zoning laws would be granted. A local property attorney will be able to assist you and provide you with the insight, knowledge and guidance needed to make the right decisions. Contact and consult with a local property attorney today to resolve any zoning variance issues you may have.