What Is a Variance

A variance allows you to deviate in some way from he requirements of the Zoning Ordinance. You may request a variance if certain physical conditions of your property (e.g. size, shape, topography, location, or surroundings) make it impossible or unreasonable for you to strictly comply with the Zoning Ordinance. You may also request one if complying with the ordinance would deprive you from rights enjoyed by neighboring property owners within the same zone.

Before You Apply

Talk With a Planner

Before applying for a variance, discuss the proposed project with a planner in the Community Development Department. The planner may be able to advise you on how to redesign the project so that a variance will not be needed.

Variance Guidelines

A variance may be granted if all of the following circumstances apply to your project:

  • Strict compliance with the zoning standards will cause you unnecessary hardship, because of unique problems with the property or existing buildings.
  • Strict compliance will cause you to lose substantial property rights that others in the same zone enjoy.
  • The proposed development with a variance will not have a negative impact on the immediate neighbors or neighborhood.
  • The variance will not provide a special privilege that is not available to neighboring properties in the same zone.
  • The variance will not allow a land use that is prohibited in the zoning district (e.g., a retail business in a residential zone).

The Process

Application Submission

As described in the Development Guide, filing the Uniform Application begins the development process. This form initiates a variety of actions including your staff request for a variance. You will need to make a deposit to cover the costs incurred by the Planning staff in reviewing your project. Staff time will be charged against the deposit as follows:

  • $82 per hour for inspection services
  • $94 per hour for professional
  • $126 per hour for management

There may be other fees that apply. The deposit will vary depending on the complexity of your project. Any unused funds will be returned to you. Within 30 days of filing, you will be notified that your application is complete or that additional information is needed.

Environmental Review

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that all discretionary projects (those projects requiring Planning Commission review) be analyzed to determine the potential impact they will have on the environment. A city planner will explain the criteria used in the assessment and determine which type of review is appropriate for your project.

Planning Staff Review

Once all the required information has been compiled, the Planning staff will prepare a report and a resolution which develops recommendations for the Planning Commission. In preparation for the commission meeting and the public hearing, a copy of the report and the draft resolution will be sent to you and will also be made available for public review.

Planning Commission Review

The Planning Commission is required to hold a public hearing on all variance applications. At least 10 days before the meeting, city staff will mail a public hearing notice to all property owners within 300 feet of your project site. The notice will also be posted at the Civic Center and published in the local newspaper.

At the hearing, staff will present an oral report and recommendation. Following the staff presentation, you may speak to the commission and make any desired presentation. Other interested people may also comment. After evaluating the testimony, the staff report, and the environmental information, the Planning Commission will vote to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the application.

City Council Review

The action of the Planning Commission will be final unless it is appealed to the City Council. The appeal must be filed in writing within 10 days of the Planning Commission’s decision. To obtain appeal processing requirements, contact the City Clerk’s Office at 714-990-7755.