How to Obtain a Zoning Variance

A variance may be issued if an applicant proves that the denial of the variance would result in an unnecessary hardship, and that the unnecessary hardship was not created by the applicant.

The variance must be the minimum variance (the least modification possible) that will afford relief and must be in harmony with the purpose and spirit of the Zoning Code. The variance cannot substantially increase congestion in the streets/transit, burden public facilities, endanger the public welfare, affect implementation of a neighborhood plan, injure the adjacent properties (including supply of light and air), or create significant environmental damage.

If a variance is required, the first step is to apply for a zoning or use registration permit from the Department of Licenses and Inspection. The application will be rejected. The applicant has 30 days to appeal to the Zoning Board, which will schedule a hearing to decide whether to grant a variance. Corporations must be represented by an attorney to appear before the Zoning Board.

Before going before the Zoning Board, the applicant must line up support from the neighborhood by circulating a petition to neighbors on surrounding blocks and meeting with the registered community organization for the neighborhood where the property is located.

Each community group has their own requirements for applicants. Most require architectural drawings depending on the proposal. The Applicant must work to gain the support of the community before the hearing before the Zoning Board in order to maximize the chance of being granted a variance. Even with support of the registered community organization, some neighbors may present evidence that the proposed use is likely to cause a detrimental impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood.

Gaining the support of both the neighborhood group and the Zoning Board is a unique and difficult process that requires an experienced professional. Before beginning the process, you should seriously consider hiring an experienced zoning attorney.