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Owners Of Unusual Properties Often Need Variances

Frank Hammond March 25, 2023

Some properties can make it difficult for property owners to meet local zoning ordinances. These rules are designed to protect property values and structure a community – putting commercial properties together to create a district and avoid building a factory or trucking firm amid a bedroom community.

Developers, construction companies and businesses may seek to secure a variance to create a mixed-use building or build a large-scale project that benefits the community. But, it often is not possible for a property owner to change the property’s zoning. The law allows owners to make improvements to the property that do not comply with zoning ordinances under unusual circumstances. An exception to zoning because of a hardship is a variance.

When Is a Variance Possible?

There are no guarantees, but hardship will often justify a variance. Some circumstances when a variance might be available include:

  • The property owners face physical or logistical challenges with the land, such as an oddly shaped lot or geographic formations.

  • The variance does not alter the fundamental character of the locality.

  • The land was initially developed before modern-day zoning ordinances.

  • The change is minor or clearly shows just cause.

  • The property cannot yield a reasonable return without a variance.

  • The owner faces unusual circumstances.

The Variance Application Process

The process will differ by the municipality, but the common steps include:

  • Filling out a variance application:The applicant must have a brief description of the proposed change, a site plan, a burden of proof statement which explains why the variance is necessary, and the filing fee.

  • Administrative review: The staff reviews the application to ensure it is complete.

  • Public hearing notice: Notice of variance application sent to the applicant, neighborhood association and owners of nearby properties. Property owners should post signs regarding the hearing in plain sight of those passing by and post a public notice in the local papers.

  • Public hearing: This includes testimony from the applicant and others who support or oppose.

  • The decision: The decision determines if the change meets local criteria.

An appeal period follows the decision.

The Process Is Far from Simple

As with most things involving the government and land use laws, it is often essential for variance applicants to work with a land use attorney who practices here in Oregon. They can guide local or out-of-state clients through the process. Their knowledge and experience also give the client the best chance to get their variance.

We have dual perspectives when working with government agencies because we have counseled both private and public entities for land use issues. To speak with us about a property variance, permit requirements, applications and appeals, schedule a consultation with us or through email.