What is the Process for Obtaining a Zoning Variance?

When purchasing commercial real estate with the intention of using it for a new business, it can be difficult to find a property that perfectly suits your needs. You may find the ideal property, only to learn that the parcel’s zoning requirements would prevent you from designing the ideal structure to house your business. With skilled legal help, you may be able to nevertheless execute your vision for your commercial property by seeking a zoning variance. Learn more about obtaining a zoning variance below, and speak with an experienced Maryland real estate attorney for further assistance.

Zoning basics

Every county dictates the permissible uses of each parcel of land through its zoning code. The zoning code identifies which property can be used for commercial, residential, industrial, or mixed use. Within this zoning code, counties will also apply certain zoning regulations or ordinances on how the land may be used. Examples of zoning regulations include limits on building height, the setback distance, parking requirements, and density of development. Zoning variances allow property owners to obtain exceptions to the zoning regulations applicable to a given lot. Changing the permissible use of a lot, i.e. from commercial to residential, is known as rezoning. We’ll discuss rezoning in a future post.

What is the process for obtaining a zoning variance?

In order to obtain a variance, property owners will have to prove to the local zoning board why a variance is necessary to make optimal use of the lot. Property owners will need to prove that there is no way to develop the property without the variance, and that it will not harm the character of the neighborhood or the use and development of neighboring lots. Owners seeking a variance will need to post details of the requested variance on the property, so as to provide notice to neighbors.

Zoning variances are typically the subject of a public hearing, where the property owner will have the chance to explain the need for the variance, and members of the local community and zoning board can learn more about the proposed plan for development or present reasons why they do not feel that it should be granted. Due to the importance of these hearings, many property owners choose to be represented by an attorney at these hearings. Decisions on whether or not the variance will be granted are issued within a short time after the hearing.

Lots located in areas subject to environmental protections will often need to meet higher standards to prove that a variance will not cause excessive environmental harm to the area. For those in Anne Arundel county, special rules on obtaining variances apply when a lot is in a bog protection area or within 1,000 feet of tidal waters, considered to be the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area.

For assistance with applying for a zoning variance, or if you are facing another legal issue regarding commercial real estate in the Maryland or Washington, DC area, contact the experienced and knowledgeable Annapolis real estate attorneys at the Law Offices of Matthew S. Evans III for a consultation, at 410-626-6009.