The Ordinance regulates the use of property, including the size, design, and siting of buildings that may be constructed on a piece of property. The Ordinance has standards for buildings that govern such features as rear yards, front setbacks, usable open space, height, and parking, etc. A variance is a request for an exception to an Ordinance standard. Variances are exceptional in nature, and no property or request is identical. A variance decision for one property does not establish a precedent for another circumstance or property, similar or not. The Board of Adjustment makes all variance decisions on a case-by-case basis.


There may be special circumstances that make it difficult for a project to meet all of the Zoning Ordinance requirements. In those instances, a project applicant may request that the Board of Adjustment grant a Variance from the Ordinance provisions. Under the Ordinance, the Board of Adjustment has the authority to grant only those variances that are consistent with the general purpose and the intent of the Ordinance. The authority to grant a variance shall be applied only when the plain and literal interpretation and enforcement of the Ordinance would result in practical difficulties, exceptional circumstances, or where the results would be inconsistent with the general purpose of the Ordinance.Variances are limited to those situations where the peculiar physical characteristics of a site make it difficult to develop under standard regulations. A variance is granted in order to bring the disadvantaged property up to the level of use enjoyed by nearby properties in the same zone. For instance, where the steep rear portion of a residential lot makes the site otherwise undevelopable, a variance might be approved to reduce the front yard setback and thereby create sufficient room for a home on the lot. Similarly, a parcel's shape might preclude construction of a garage unless side yard setback requirements are reduced by approval of a variance.


Pursuant to Minnesota Statues 394, Variances shall only be permitted when they are in harmony with the general purposes and intent of the official control and when the variances are consistent with the comprehensive plan. Variances may be granted when the applicant for the variance establishes that there are practical difficulties in complying with the official control. "Practical difficulties," as used in connection with the granting of a variance, means that the property owner proposes to use the property in a reasonable manner not permitted by an official control; the plight of the landowner is due to circumstances unique to the property not created by the landowner; and the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the locality. Economic considerations alone do not constitute practical difficulties.