It’s not often that you see a sub shop and a preserved Victorian home on the same street. Why? Most localities have zoning restrictions that prevent very different types of buildings and businesses from being located in a specified area. Zoning restrictions are in place to maintain the look, feel and purpose of neighborhoods, as well as property values.

What is a Zoning Variance?

If your type of business does not meet the specified zoning use for an area, you’ll need a zoning variance to bypass the law. Zoning variances are requests to deviate from an area’s current zoning requirements. For example, if you want to operate an industrial business in an area zoned for retail, you’ll need to request a variance to the current zoning ordinance before opening your business. 

Zoning variances for a business are usually given by a locality; however, some cases have to go before the city council or municipal government. If a variance is granted, the business owner is permitted to use the land or building outside the requirements of the zoning ordinance. 

How to Get a Zoning Variance

These steps can help you obtain a zoning variance for your business:

1. Find out your property’s zoning designation.
2. Determine what type of zoning variance you need. The two types of variances are area variances and use variances. An area variance allows for the use of land in a manner otherwise not permitted by the dimensional or physical requirements of the area’s zoning ordinance. A use variance is required when a building’s intended use violates the zoning regulations of an area.
3. Get your property surveyed before filing your variance application. A property surveyor will research the property and its boundaries in-depth to ensure that you don’t run into any legal issues with neighboring properties down the road.
4. Prepare a plan for your proposed project. In order to obtain a variance, you’ll need to present a valid reason for the locality to waive your business from following current zoning ordinances. You’ll need to prove that the existing zoning restrictions have caused you “unnecessary hardship” and that your requested use variance will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood.
5. File a request or written application for your variance with the Zoning Board. You can do this at your local city or town hall.
6. Notify nearby property owners of your requested variance. If a hearing is required for your variance approval, local property owners within a specific radius of your property will be allowed to attend and ask questions.