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Thread: Administrative variances

  1. #1
    Cyburbian mique28's avatar
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    Administrative variances

    Looking at adding a little flexibility to our zoning code by allowing "administrative variances". When I say "administrative variance" I am talking about allowing the planning director or some other administrative personnel to grant small bulk regulation (setbacks, FAR, lot width) variances without the need to go to our board of appeals. We don't have a great deal of appeals in our community but I have run into a fair amount of situations where an added foot here or there could have made life a lot easier for Staff and applicant.

    I have found a few code examples online that give flexibility of 1-5% beyond established standards. I am wondering if anyone has had experience with such a code provision and if they have found it helpful or harmful. Would you add this to your code if you could? Also if you have a particulalrly good example I would appreciate giving it a look. Thanks

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    I like the Zoning Hearing Board, and the fact that there are an odd number members to make a ruling.

    Leaving this stuff up to 1 person sounds like a recipe for trouble, IMO.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    It would be convinient, but I agree with Jeff.

    Make sure your state enabling legislation allows you to do it.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian transguy's avatar
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    I don't like the idea of administrative personel make decisions like these. Also, make sure that you don't call them variances. State Statutes probably won't allow for admin to be giving variances (and I assume this is why you quoted it).

  5. #5
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop View post
    It would be convinient, but I agree with Jeff.

    Make sure your state enabling legislation allows you to do it.
    I also lean that direction. If you do it, I recommend it includes a process that allows the director's ruling to be appealed to the Board of Adjustment. If you are granting the same variances all the time, perhaps you should look at the regulation itself to see whether it is appropriate or might need a small alteration.

    Also, how would the director have hearings with those property owners within ___' of the subject property, which is frequently required in state laws?

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    While the county surrounding us has administrative variances, we don't, and I don't want that authority. If I had it every application would include requests for administrative variances. [/whine]"I can't build what I want unless it's six inches wider."[whine/] [/while]You gave him an administrative variance, and mine is even better. Why can't I have one?"[whine/]

    No thank you.

    I love having to take all variances to a hearing. I once apologized to the planning commission for taking them a 4-inch variance, and they insisted that that was what they wanted since it was their job.

    Yes, thank you.

  7. #7
    It's prohibited here -- "A board of zoning appeals shall approve or deny..." unless you go the hearing officer route. As Otis mentions above, that would a royal pain the backside, so we gladly leave it to the board.
    Je suis Charlie

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I can't take any credit for this (nor would I want to), but our zoning ordinance contains a provision that has "authorized variances" allowing the ZBA or Planning Commission to grant variances for certain things:

    1. 20% reduction in setbacks
    2. permit use of lots otherwise prohibited solely because of insufficient area or width
    3. off street parking
    4. loading spaces
    5. increasing gross area of a sign
    6. extending time allowed for a non-conforming use
    7. permitting recongstruction of a non-conforming building when damaged by act of god, etc.

    I'm not sure if this was intended to strictly limit the scope of the ZBA, but they've taken it to mean "give variances to anybody who asks" if the variance falls under that list.

    We also have a weird provision, allowed under Illinois law and home rule, where the Planning Commission can give variances if the project has a public hearing associated with it.

    But I really don't like any of these provisions and I think that not having an appointed body between you and the applicant is a bad, bad, bad idea.

  9. #9
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I don't know.

    If the zoning explicitly allows for administrative approval of certain variances and the procedure is explicitly delineated in the code (and good), I don't really see the problem with it. (perhaps I am just confident in my ability to objectively decide what you can or cannot do with your property )

    I have seen it work well in certain places and for very minor variances (ie 10% of a required setback, etc.), but I also agree that changes to the bulk requirements (when appropriate) could be more appropriate.
    Last edited by mendelman; 19 Jun 2008 at 10:43 AM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian mique28's avatar
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    Thank you all for your thoughts. I guess I looked at admin variances the same way that mendleman does but the other opinions expressed have given me pause.

    Interestingly, the notion of administrative variances was presented in a session at this year's APA conference titled something like "How sick is your zoning ordinance...what you can do to fix it". The administrative variance was suggested as one positive way to add flexibility to your code.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    I would be real careful about granting variances administratively. Seems like a good idea, but can backfire. I also believe the BZA process is a deterrent to variance requests and encourages compliance with the regulations, which is the way it ought to be.
    ...my lifestyle determines my death style!
    - Metallica

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    When I served as the zoning administrator at a previous jurisdication, among the permits I could approval were variances. But they were all in noticed public hearings. I don't recall any appeals of my variance decisions. So I guess it worked OK.
    Annoyingly insensitive

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