In the process of obtaining building permits, business owners and real estate developers may encounter situations where they need to address special use variances with the Board of Zoning Appeals. Understanding when these variances are required is crucial to navigating the complex world of zoning and land use regulations. Because the procedures that must be followed when handling these types of appeals can be complicated, it is crucial for property owners and developers to work with an attorney who has experience in this area.

What Is a Use Variance?

A use variance is a permission granted by the local government that allows a business or entity to use property in a way that deviates from the standard zoning regulations. These deviations typically involve land uses that are prohibited within a particular zone but may still be compatible with surrounding properties.

The purpose of requiring use variances is to ensure that any proposed land use does not negatively impact neighboring properties or violate established zoning standards. The Board of Zoning Appeals, also known as the BOZA, reviews applications for use variances and makes determinations based on specific criteria outlined in local ordinances.

When Are Special Use Variances Necessary?

Use variances may be necessary when there is a desire to utilize property in ways that fall outside of what is allowed under current zoning regulations. Some common scenarios where business owners and real estate developers may require use variances include:

  • New construction: When planning to construct a new building or make significant modifications to an existing structure for purposes other than those specifically permitted by zoning laws, a use variance will likely be required.

  • Change in land use: When transitioning from one type of business operation to another (e.g., converting an office space into a restaurant), it may be necessary to obtain approval through a use variance if such a change is not explicitly permitted.

  • Expansion or addition: If a business owner or developer intends to expand an existing building or add new structures to a property, and the proposed changes do not conform to the current zoning regulations, a use variance may be required.

  • Unique circumstances: In some cases, issues such as topography, lot size limitations, or historical preservation requirements may necessitate a use variance for certain projects.

The Role of the Board of Zoning Appeals

The BOZA will review applications for use variances. Its primary responsibility is to evaluate whether granting the requested variance would be consistent with the overall goals and objectives of local zoning ordinances while also considering potential impacts on neighboring properties and public welfare.

When submitting an application for a use variance, it is essential to provide detailed information about a project’s nature and how it aligns with the community’s best interests. This includes demonstrating that the planned development will protect public safety and welfare, that it will not diminish property value for neighbors or affect their ability to use and enjoy their property, that traffic and pedestrian safety will be maintained, and that the special use fits within the city’s overall plan.

The Board of Zoning Appeals typically holds public hearings where applicants have an opportunity to present their case and address any concerns raised by neighbors or other stakeholders. It is important to prepare thoroughly for these hearings by gathering supporting documentation, obtaining expert opinions as necessary, and presenting compelling arguments that demonstrate why granting the use variance would benefit both an individual property owner and the community at large.