A variance is a request to deviate from current zoning requirements. If granted, it permits the owner to use his land in a way that is ordinarily not permitted by the zoning ordinance. Variances do not change active zoning laws, but rather waive a certain requirement of the zoning ordinance.
Examples where a variance might apply include building a gazebo in residential back yard, adding a second story in a one-story zone, or requesting that the board of adjustment slightly reduce the setback requirements in order to fit a building on an odd-shaped lot.
If you want to apply for a variance to change the permitted use of your land, some of the things you might have to prove are:
- The new use of the property preserves the appearance and ambience of neighboring property.
- The new use is applicable only to your unique piece of property and not to those surrounding it.
- The existing restrictions create a serious hardship on you. In determining exactly what constitutes a hardship, courts will look at the circumstances and general objectives of zoning in your neighborhood, the nature of the change, its effect on adjacent neighbors, and any practical difficulty in using the property.
If you need a variance for your property and do not want to risk getting turned down, you will likely need the assistance of a real estate attorney familiar with local zoning laws and practices. It may also be necessary to obtain an architect or other expert to assist the attorney – something that your attorney can help you with.