There are two types of variances the Board may grant, each requiring different considerations.
The AREA VARIANCE is the most common as it does not involve a change of use or a use of land not permitted in the particular zoning district the property is located in. An area variance is normally granted on the basis of a practical difficulty. Common examples of an area variance include:
- an oversize residential garage for the size of the lot
- privacy fence height in excess of allowed
- location of a garage, house, or a building closer to the lot line than normally permitted, and
- construction of a single family dwelling on a prior recorded lot which is smaller than one currently required for new lot creation.
In applications for area variances, the practical difficulty is normally due to the size, shape or topography of the property; the location of existing structures or the desire to preserve a large tree or other desirable landscape feature.
The Board of Zoning Appeals, in the case of an area variance, is required to weight the requested variance against the following criteria:
- How substantial the variation is in relation to the requirement
- The effect, if the variance is allowed, of the increased population density that is produced on available government facilities (fire, water, garbage, etc.)
- Whether a substantial change will be produced in the character of the neighborhood or a substantial detriment to adjoining properties will be created
- Whether the difficulty can be alleviated by some method, feasible for the applicant to pursue, other than by a variance
- Whether in view of the manner in which the difficulty arose, and considering all of the above factors, the interests of justice will be served by allowing a variance.
The USE VARIANCE is seldom granted. A use variance may be granted only when an applicant can demonstrate an unnecessary hardship so severe that it would require a use of the land not normally permitted to overcome the hardship. Examples of use variances include:
- Permitting churches in non-residential zoning districts (U.S. Supreme Court rulings dictate such permits in most cases)
- A cellular communications tower in a rural location or on an extremely small parcel that could not be used for any other purpose, and
- An appropriate adaptive re-use of a school or church in a residential district.
In cases of a use variance, the proof of unnecessary hardship is placed on the applicant and the following must be demonstrated:
- The land in question cannot yield a reasonable return if used only for a purpose allowed in the zone, or as a legal nonconforming use within that zone.
- The mere fact that the individual owner may suffer financial hardship or the fact that another permitted use may allow the sale of the property for a better price, or permit a larger profit, does not justify the granting of a variance.
- A showing by dollars and cents proof is required for showing a lack of reasonable return.
- A showing of present loss is not adequate in establishing a lack of reasonable return. The applicant must demonstrate that the return for each and permitted use under the Ordinance.
- The plight of the owner is due to unique circumstances and not to general conditions in the neighborhood.
- A unique circumstance results from sources beyond the control of the individual, must not be shared by others in similar circumstances, and cannot be self-inflicted or financial.
- Unique circumstances relate only to the property, and exist when legal restrictions, contour of the land, shape of the lot, or other physical restrictions create unique circumstances not incurred by one’s neighbor.
- The use sought to be authorized by variance will not alter the essential character of the locality.
- Any use that would alter or disrupt a neighborhood or district, when such district is in accordance with a comprehensive plan and adopted in the Zoning Regulations, should not be permitted