In real estate, a variance is an official exception/dispensation from a rule or regulation. For example, an authorization that is given so that a property can be used or developed in a way that does not conform to the zoning regulations that are applicable for the property’s location.
For example, if a property owner wants to build a second story to a property that is located in a one-story zone, the owner must request a that a variance be granted.
Variances can provide relief from hardships that affect a single lot or an otherwise small area.
Many similar individual lot variances that are requested within proximity of each other may ultimately lead to rezoning of the entire area in a way that adapts to changes that have amassed over time.
There are two main categories of variances that can be requested from a zoning board or commission: area variance and use variance.
Area variance is an authorization to use the land in a way that is not allowed or severely hindered by dimensional and/or physical requirements of the zoning regulations in place. Area variances are more common and more easily approved.
For example, if a developer’s project cannot be built because the lot is irregular and makes it impossible to maintain required setbacks on all sides of the building, the developer can request a variance that allows for smaller setbacks.
Use variance is an authorization to use the land for a purpose that is otherwise not allowed or severely hindered by zoning regulations in place. Use variances are more controversial, because the changes required may affect neighboring lot owners or users.
For example, if a lot is zoned for single-family residential use, as is the surrounding neighborhood, obtaining a variance that allows for a multifamily property to be built may encounter obstacles (residents may object to changes to the character or the area)
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