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Thread: [IowaAPA] Special Exceptions, Variances and options

  1. #1
    Tricia Sandahl

    [IowaAPA] Special Exceptions, Variances and options

    Mason City is currently drafting a new zoning ordinance. We are examining the role of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the types of cases they might consider, beyond those identified in Iowa Code 414. We've looked at other ordinances in the state and have seen various examples of how the ZBA operates. Currently our ordinance only allows the Board to issue a variance that (theoretically) must meet the public interest and hardship tests. We are looking for ways to introduce flexibilities into the review process at the staff or the Board level. The attorney working with our consultant took us to task for our administrative exceptions process; he believes it is a back door variance. I am forwarding the question below from Pam Myhre, Growth Development and Planning Directory, Mason City, Iowa. Any feedback is greatly appreciated.


    The City of Mason City would like to hear from Iowa cities that distinquish between applications for variances and special exceptions in their zoning ordinance and the requirements for each. As example, Dubuque's zoning ordinance allows residential property owners (only) to seek a special exception to vary bulk standards which do not, then, need to meet the strict hardship test required of a variance. The ZBA hears both variance and special exception cases. In addition, under certain circumstances, staff can issue a Limited Setback Waiver for up to 33.3% of the required setback.

    In Mason City, only variance applications to the ZBA are currently allowed to vary bulk standards, but staff can issue, under certain circumstances, an administrative exception to vary certain setbacks and bulk standards.

    Please send those sections of your code or comments, that might be helpful to us as we re-write Mason City's zoning ordinance.

    Thank you in advance.

    Pamela Myhre
    Growth Development & Planning Director
    City of Mason City
    10 First Street N.W.
    Mason City, Iowa 50401

    P please don't print this email unless you really need to...

  2. #2
    Sam Perry

    Re: [IowaAPA] Special Exceptions, Variances and options

    Regarding Tricia's question about "special exceptions":

    Look at Ames Municipal Code 29.1506.

    We have code provisions for special exceptions, which include a provision
    for "Minor Area Modications"

    This was added in 2006. Its been used several times. It does not have the
    "hardship" or "public interest" criterion. If approved (after public
    hearing) it can reduce the side setback by no more than 2 feet, and the
    front and rear by no more than 5 feet. I don't think this is a back door
    to a variance because it doesn't allow consecutive applications. In other
    words, if you get a minor exception for 1 foot this year, you can only get
    one more foot on your next minor exception. It does place the burden on
    the applicant to have the document recorded, which I don't think is being
    followed up on. That probably needs to be resolved, but generally, it has
    worked very well. It has worked well for existing older subdivisions,
    where the required side setback has increased from 6 to 8 feet, after the
    homes were built. If they go to do an addition on the back, they were
    suddenly faced with a recommendation for denial of a variance by staff,
    because the hardship criteria could not be met.

    We also have a special provisions for lot size variance and historic
    structure setbacks.

    Good luck on your changes,

    Sam Perry, Planner
    City of Ames, IA, Dept of Planning & Housing
    Direct: (515) 239-5447
    Front Desk: (515) 239-5400
    Fax: (515) 239-5404
    Email: sperry (AT) city (DOT) ames.ia.us
    Web: www.cityofames.org

    515 Clark Ave.
    P.O. Box 811
    Ames, IA 50010

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