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What is a Land Use Variance, and Do I Need a Lawyer to Obtain One?

A variance is when you are permitted to go against zoning laws and do certain activities. It is an exemption that is authorized one time only and doesn’t apply to everyone. The current zoning laws are still in force and you cannot get around them because you received a variance.

For example, suppose that you want to open a cafe in an industrial area. Cafes are zoned as commercial establishments. A variance authorizes you to build this kind of business in a place that is zoned differently. It applies to anything surrounding the property that goes against existing zoning laws and municipal codes.

Zoning variances will cover two different areas:

  • Use: This allows you to use the land in ways that are restricted by zoning requirements. Some good examples are commercial uses in residential areas, such as a mini-mall in an area zoned for single-family homes.
  • Area: An area variance is when you are using the land in ways that are restricted based on the dimensions and physical requirements. Some examples of this include building an extension onto your home or inserting fencing along the property line.

These permit you to use the property even though it is in an area that is zoned differently.

You must ask for the variance from the local planning development agencies. In Seattle, you will get your variance from the Seattle Department of Planning and Development. In Tacoma, you want to contact the Planning and Development Services Department.

We recommend using an attorney who can help you with the variance. Real estate laws are complex, and you won’t know how things are different between communities and governments. A skilled real estate attorney is familiar with existing zoning regulations and local zoning laws. They know the procedure to request a zoning variance and can represent the property owner before the zoning board if necessary.

What is a Variance Use in Real Estate? When Do I Need a Lawyer to Obtain One?

Municipalities create zoning laws that are designed to protect us. Land usage sets restrictions for what is allowed in different areas. These laws state that you can’t do certain activities or build specific structures. Governments want to protect the quality of life, planning, usage, environmental implications, and growth.

A zoning law is passed to create balanced policies for the development of communities. The problem is that land usage laws are often too restrictive. They limit the best prospects for those properties with higher land values and usage.

Filing a Variance Application to Waive a Current Zoning Ordinance

You can get around these regulations by asking for a land use variance. A variance allows you to use the property in a manner that is forbidden by zoning ordinances. It is a waiver that lets you do the proposed activities.

Getting a land use variance is challenging, and you need a lawyer that understands the laws and what to do to get it. The burden of proof falls on you. It is up to property owners to show the local zoning board why they need a land use variance.

Zoning, development, and planning boards will not easily give you a variance. You must show certain things to be considered for a variance, including:

  • The request will not harm the neighborhood.
  • The strict enforcement of the Land Use Code will cause severe hardships if a variance is not approved.
  • The proposal is consistent with the purpose and spirit of the Land Use Code.
  • You are asking for the minimum amount of relief and don’t want to show favoritism by doing a comparison of nearby properties.

These exemptions require having the knowledge and understanding of the different laws (such as the Land Use Code). The Land Use Code regulates the development and growth of an area.

Applying for a land use variance requires understanding the law and effectively proving that you need it. We recommend using a lawyer to handle everything. You want one that is experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to land use variants. This will reduce the time involved and increase the chances of getting approved.

Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess can help with our knowledge and experience in land use variances. We practice in real estate law and have assisted many of our clients in getting approved for variances. The key to success is showing how you qualify for one. We know what to do to make convincing arguments in your favor. Our legal team has experience discussing a proposed variance with the local governing body and zoning authority. Call us today at (206) 621-1110 (for Seattle) or (253) 572-1000 (in Tacoma) and let us help you.

What Are Some Reasons You Might Need a Variance?

Real estate offers a lot of potential. The challenge is that making changes and bringing out the greatest use of the property requires making changes. These are necessary to adjust to the changing times to turn the property into something special.

For example, someone who owns private property in a residential district may need zoning changes to open a business that is typically prohibited in such an area. There are existing zoning regulations governing a residential zone versus industrial zones or commercial zones.

The problem is that many zoning laws will take a one-size-fits-all approach. This hurts the ability of new businesses to come into communities and develop neighborhoods. Many times variances are required to get around outdated zoning laws. Those times when you will need a variance include:

  • You are building on a vacant piece of land: A vacant piece of land can sit next door to a property with significant potential. The biggest issue is that the property might not be zoned or developed for these activities. You want to develop the property to adjust to the changing character of the neighborhood. A variance allows you to build and go against some of the zoning laws. Seattle has many historic neighborhoods and developers use these variances to build modern structures.
  • You are changing the classification of a building: Inside many neighborhoods, doing certain things can change the classification of a property. Things such as building above a certain height could cause your property to be considered used for another purpose. You need a variance in these situations to change the character of the property.
  • You are changing the usage of the property: Situations like this are when you plan on using the property for something different. Some good examples are commercial businesses such as doctors’ or lawyers’ offices converting a house into an office and needing these variances. This allows them to construct an office and see customers even though it is in a residential area.
  • You are using the land for different purposes than the zoning classification: Many times you want to use a property for something other than what was originally intended. This means that you must get the zoning changed or use a variance. A variance gives you the ability to switch the usage of the property without needing to go through all of politics and bureaucracy in changing zoning laws.

These are the times when you will need a variance for different real estate projects. Variances help to move things forward so you can complete the project and realize the best usage of the property.

We can help you with obtaining the land use variance that you need. Our team of attorneys practices in real estate law and we will give you practical advice and help you explore your options.

If You Need a Land Use Variance, Contact Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess for Help

Our team of professionals will give you accurate and knowledgeable legal advice. We work with you through every step of the process in getting the variance. Our team communicates with you about what is happening and how things are going. You can relax and let us handle everything.

We have 100 years of combined legal experience. Our team uses this experience and knowledge to create favorable outcomes for you. Zoning changes are challenging and you need someone on your side who knows what to do to get results.

Variances require proving why you need this exception to the planning and development codes. You must show that it is necessary, and this requires an attorney to handle these cases. You get the results you need by having knowledgeable professionals on your side. Our team of attorneys practice in real estate law and we will give you practical advice.

Contact Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess today at (206) 621-1110 (Seattle) or (253) 572-1000 (Tacoma) and let us help you. You need a lawyer on your side who knows what to do to help you obtain a land use variance. Call us today or fill out the contact form on our website and let us help you.