For many property owners, it is surprising to learn that the federal and local governments have the ability to determine how one can use certain types of property. In most jurisdictions there are typically strict rules regarding what one can and cannot do with their home, building, or other pieces of land due to zoning designations. For example, a property owner typically cannot build a commercial building in the middle of an area designated as residential. Property owners should understand how zoning designations may limit your use. 

Zoning laws play a crucial role in regulating land use and development, ensuring that communities are planned and developed in an organized and sustainable manner. However, there are instances where property owners may seek exceptions to zoning regulations to accommodate specific needs or projects. In these instances, property owners may be able to seek a zoning variance.   In Georgia, obtaining a zoning variance is a complex process that requires careful consideration, planning, and adherence to local regulations. Let’s briefly explore the steps involved in navigating and obtaining a zoning variance in Georgia. 

Zoning Variances Defined

A zoning variance is a request for relief from certain zoning regulations or requirements imposed by local authorities.  The variance allows property owners to deviate from the standard zoning regulations due to unique circumstances or hardships associated with their property. Variances are typically granted when the applicant can show that strict application of the zoning ordinance would cause undue hardship, and when the variance is consistent with the overall purpose and intent of the zoning plan.

Steps in Obtaining a Zoning Variance

  1. Research and Planning: Prior to applying for the variance, the property owner must thoroughly research the local zoning regulations and requirements applicable to their property. It is important to review the zoning ordinance, comprehensive plan, and any other relevant documents in the subject jurisdiction. Understanding and interpreting the specific zoning requirements and restrictions will help determine whether the proposed project calls for a variance.
  2. Consultation with Local Authorities: It is best to consult with local planning staff and officials or zoning administrators early in the process to discuss your intentions and assess the likelihood of obtaining a variance. These officials can provide valuable insights into the zoning process, applicable regulations, and help identify any potential challenges or considerations specific to your property.
  3. Submitting the Application After you have determined that a variance is necessary and viable, you’ll need to prepare a formal application for submission to the local zoning board or governing body. The application typically includes detailed information about the property, details about the requested variance, and justification for why the variance should be granted. Most jurisdictions will ask that you provide evidence of hardship, such as unique property characteristics, topographical constraints, or other factors that justify the need for the variance. 
  4. Public Notification:  In Georgia, public notification is a vital part of the zoning variance process. The applicant is required to notify property owners within a certain radius of the subject property through posted signs, mailed notices or published announcements in local newspapers. This provides an opportunity for neighbors and other interested parties to voice their opinions or concerns regarding the proposed variance.
  5. Public Hearing:  After public notification, a public hearing is held. The public hearing allows stakeholders, including property owners, neighbors, and community members, to express their views on the variance request. The zoning board or governing body will hear and consider all testimony and evidence presented during the public hearing. 
  6. Decision and Approval:  The zoning board or governing body will render a decision on the variance application, after considering all relevant factors, including public input and adherence to legal standards. Approval of the variance may require that specific conditions or stipulations be imposed to ensure compliance with the intent of the zoning regulations and minimize any adverse impacts on the surrounding area.
  7. Implementation and Compliance:  If the variance is granted, it’s necessary to adhere to any conditions or requirements set forth by the zoning board or governing body. Next steps may involve obtaining additional permits, fulfilling specific obligations, or complying with guidelines outlined in the variance approval.

The process of obtaining a zoning variance in Georgia is a multi-step process that requires careful planning, research, and adherence to local regulations. Understanding the steps involved is necessary for property owners to navigate the variance process effectively and achieve their development objectives.

The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent residential and commercial property owners with all zoning and land use matters including variances. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.