A zoning variance is when you ask your city or township if you can build something that the zoning laws would otherwise not allow.
For example, if your zoning laws allow buildings in your neighborhood to have 2 story houses, and you want to add a 3rd story, you would need a zoning variance.
“Generally, local governments want people to follow the rules that they’ve established, so to be an exception to the rule, you need to show that you either have a unique condition that makes the normal application of the rules not make sense for you, or you have to prove that what you are going to build will benefit the overall neighborhood to such an extent that it’s worth bending the rules or you. ”
Every municipal government will have a slightly different process, but generally the sequence-of-events is as follows:
1) You and your architect will determine, generally, what you want to build- and therefore what kind of exception to the zoning rule you will be asking for.
2) Your architect will prepare a schematic set of documents that meets the requirements to submit for a zoning permit.
3) You will be denied this permit (because you do not follow the rules). You will then be scheduled for the next available slot on the agenda of your local zoning board meeting. These generally meet about once a month.
4) The architect will prepare a presentation to the zoning board, with attractive images of the design and an analysis of why you need the variance. The presentation might also show some examples of other homes that are build successfully in a similar way.
5) The board will give the public a chance to weigh-in, and then take a vote on whether or not to approve your variance.