What is a Variance?
Zoning Variance Brochure
A variance is "a relaxation of the terms of [the Zoning Ordinance] where such [relaxation] will not be contrary to the public interest and where, owing to conditions peculiar to the property and not the result of actions of the applicant, a literal enforcement of the chapter would result in unnecessary and undue hardship." (Municipal Code, Section 18-02)
Variances are often requested for such activities as exceeding the building size requirements or needing to build a structure at less than the required setback.
A variance request is heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals, which takes into account specific findings (i.e., facts and conditions) associated with the property and the request. These findings are:
- Exceptional Circumstances
- Natural Causes
- Preservation of Property Rights
- Absence of Detriment
- General Nature
- Minimum Variance Required
Details of these findings are in Section 18-35 of the Municipal Code, which can be found on the Internet at the City’s web site.
Steps in the Variance Process
1. Prior to Application
Applicants seeking to receive a variance should request an informational meeting with Planning staff or obtain an information packet. Useful information to have available when meeting with or phoning Planning staff includes:
- Address of the property
- Detailed sketch or plat of the existing area
- Proposed variance and preliminary site plan (including detailed measurements)
A variance application form lists all of the required information for submittal.
2. Application Submittal
The application packet includes a calendar specifying deadlines for submittals and scheduled Zoning Board of Appeals meetings. Applicants must submit a completed form, including all relevant information, to the Planning Department (6th Floor of City Hall Plaza).
3. Zoning Board of Appeals Public Hearing and Meeting
Upon acceptance by the Planning Department of the completed application, the "Variance Request" will be placed on the next available Zoning Board of Appeals agenda. The Zoning Board of Appeals holds a public hearing on the scheduled date, typically the second Tuesday of the month. The Zoning Board of Appeals considers the request based on the 6 findings (see list under "What is a Variance?") and makes a decision to approve or deny the request. In some situations, the Board may approve the request if a lesser variance is acceptable to the Board and agreeable to the applicant. Unlike the Plan Commission’s conditional (to the Common Council), the Zoning Board of Appeals’ decisions are final.
The Zoning Board of Appeals "may not permit as a variance any use that is not permitted...for the property in the zone where the affected person’s land is located" (Sec.18-34(3)(c)). Meaning, a variance from the Zoning Ordinance may be requested for virtually any matter except unpermitted land uses (e.g., variance to construct an auto body shop in a residential zoning district).
The appeals process works in a similar manner as the variance process. An appeal is filed by an applicant "where it is alleged there is an error in any order, requirement, decision, or determination made by [staff] in the enforcement of [the variance section of the Zoning Ordinance] or of any ordinance" (Sec. 18-34(3)(a)).
How to Apply for a Variance
Application for a variance is made on a form available from the Planning and Economic Development Department and submitted as noted in Step 2. The application must include:
- Detailed explanation of the requested variance, including the specific section or sections of the Zoning Ordinance being varied.
- Scale map and site plan, showing pertinent property boundaries and including a graphic scale.
- Responses to the 6 findings, as listed under "What is a Variance?" and detailed in the application packet.
Specifics of these and other submittal requirements are included on the application form.
At the time of this brochure’s publication, the City’s fee to submit a Variance Request Application or to file an appeal is $50, with an additional $25 for calling a special meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals that is not regularly scheduled.
For more information regarding variance requests, please contact Josh Miller, Planner/Zoning Administrator at (715) 486-2075.