The purpose of zoning is to organize a city or municipality, often separating industrial and commercial activity from the daily life of residents. However, there are sometimes cases in which existing zoning ordinances are counterproductive to a specific community need or an aspect of the property.

Changing the zoning of a property can be a difficult process – and it might not always be feasible. Instead, seeking a variance could allow an otherwise impermissible use of the land or structures on the property. The zoning ordinance and regulations would remain in place aside from the use or feature specified within the variance.

Zoning and construction may conflict

Attention to local zoning and land use laws should always be part of initial planning for a construction project in New Jersey or New York. Unfortunately, these laws can introduce unforeseen issues, particularly when the land itself creates problems.

Expanding an existing structure, building over setbacks, constructing new office or housing spaces and installing special amenities could potentially violate the zoning ordinance. It is important for contractors to ensure that they have permission for any deviations before starting work.

Whether creating new structures or modifying an existing structure, obtaining a variance can prevent serious problems between property owners, construction contractors and local government.

Requirements of a variance

Elements of a successful variance include:

  • Details of the property and the proposed use or feature
  • Rationale for why the proposed property use or feature is important and appropriate, such as addressing a hardship inherent to the land
  • Explanation of how the use or feature would not negatively impact the community or could serve a public benefit that outweighs other consequences

Preparing variance requests typically involves carefully researching municipal and state laws as well as creating a comprehensive proposal. It is also possible that residents and other members of the community may oppose the variance. Due to the complexity of these cases, seeking legal counsel is advisable, especially for large or contentious construction projects.