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Does a real estate variance change a property’s zoning?

On Behalf of | Dec 19, 2023 | Real Estate

Real estate tends to be sorted into specific zones by municipalities. Land is only allowed to be used in a way that is approved within whatever zoning it has been assigned.

For example, many houses are located in residential zones, which means that businesses cannot operate out of them, and they can only be used for residential housing purposes. There are also commercial zones where businesses can operate, and there are even cases where both residential and commercial properties are allowed to operate – like an apartment building with shops on the ground floor. Finally, there are typically other zones for agricultural, industrial and manufacturing businesses. Just because someone is starting a commercial operation doesn’t mean they can operate out of any commercial zone.

What is a variance?

In cases where a business owner finds out they can’t use their property as intended, they may seek a variance. Is this going to change their property’s zoning? The short answer is no. When a business owner applies for a variance, they are essentially asking permission to break the regulations governing that property. They want to use their property in a way that is not usually permitted under those zoning regulations.

If a variance is granted, all other properties located around it will still be subject to the same zoning laws. The zone itself won’t change at all, and the maps will not be re-drawn. All that happens is that the business owner is told that they have special permission to operate outside of those regulations. This permission will not apply to any other business within the zone, and other business owners should never assume that it does. Each case is unique and handled individually.

Why are variances authorized?

Variances can be granted for a lot of different reasons. But that doesn’t mean the business owners should assume they can get a variance. The city certainly can reject a variance proposal, which may make it impossible for a business to operate as intended. That’s why it’s so important for owners and executives to seek legal guidance as proactively as possible when it becomes clear that a variance is needed.