Justin L. Campbell

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How and When to Apply for a Variance

by Justin L. Campbell 09/02/2021

Government bodies develop zoning regulations to enhance the peaceful enjoyment of every member of a community’s property. These regulations are part of a larger land-use plan that separates commercial, retail and residential areas. Few would disagree that zoning rules prove beneficial in the overall scheme of things.

But by that same token, they also represent an encumbrance on a homeowner’s use of land. When zoning regulations impede what many would consider a reasonable use, property owners usually apply for a variance. A variance acts as a mechanism to petition municipal boards to allow an otherwise unauthorized use of land. Negotiating, however, may prove challenging. That’s why understanding the following elements of securing a variance approval could help property owners avoid procedural setbacks.

How To Apply For A Variance:

It may seem almost counterintuitive, but the first step to gaining a variance begins with a phone call. The people who work in these offices handle difficult variance applications every day. An experienced clerk or zoning official has probably dealt with a request like yours before and can provide critical information. Outside any steps specific to your local agencies, the following steps are routine.

  • Write a Letter:Consider crafting a letter that details the parcel’s size, existing structures and details about the proposed project. Offer reasoning why setting aside guidelines such as setbacks or others are reasonable in the case. It’s also worth providing letters from abutters who support your zoning change.

  • Apply: Local zoning or building offices often provide the formal variance application. Fill it out in its entirety and file it with all required supporting documents.

  • Appear at the Zoning Hearing:Public hearings remain a standard part of the process. A legal advertisement will probably run in the newspaper of record or other resources for making the information known. Applicants typically appear at a formal zoning meeting to discuss the matter and get approval or denial.

Although reasonable land-use changes gain municipal approval without difficulty, it’s not uncommon for boards to resist when neighbors or community members object. If the variance appears consistent with others approved in the past, appealing the decision may be in the homeowner’s best interest. It may also be worthwhile to consult with a land-use attorney for complicated variance applications and appeals.

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