Property zoning codes determine standards for buildings and use. These apply to the structural details of a building, including size, height, location on the lot and setbacks, as well as building usage. Suppose the owner wishes to alter the structure, property or use. In that case, they need to apply for a variance from the appropriate local Board of Zoning Appeals or Adjustment (different municipalities have different names for the board).
Two types of variances
The variance designation is based on the type of the change and the type of property:
- Minor variances: This is for single-family home additions, garages, fences, and pools.
- Major variances: These involve all other types of changes to property and usage.
BZA holds hearing
While the rules vary by municipality, Minneapolis property owners must be notified of a hearing at least ten days before it. Minor variances notifications go to fellow property owners within 100 feet of the subject property. Major variances extend that distance to 350 feet. Anyone can speak at the hearing if they are in favor of or against granting the variance. Property owners can instead send written comments or testimony if they wish. These must include:
- Name and address of the owner writing the letter.
- The address of the potential variance or variances.
- Indicate which variance the comments address.
While Minnesota law does not require hearings, the Minneapolis Zoning Board of Adjustment (BZA) meets every two weeks and holds a hearing within four weeks of the application. The decision on the variance must happen within 60 days of application. Failure to do so means automatic approval.
This is based on three factors:
- Are there practical difficulties in using the property because of the zoning ordinance?
- Do unique elements of the property make the variance necessary?
- Does the variance stay within the character of the neighborhood?
Many variables are involved
Each city or town has its own rules on these matters. Moreover, there is a certain amount of a gray area involved in a BZA’s decisions. Each variance will have specific challenges, so many find it helpful to work with an attorney who handles land-use issues. It is especially so when the initial application for a variance was rejected.