Planning & Development

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Board of Adjustment and Variances

Guide to the Board of Adjustment and Variances


What is a variance?
A variance is a granting of relief from certain provisions of the zoning ordinance where enforcement would result in hardship or severe practical difficulties to the owner.

Why are variances requested?
Typically, a variance is sought to allow improvements on a piece of property that would not be allowed under the zoning ordinance. A property owner may seek relief form a zoning regulation by request for variance only if the criteria associated with hardship or practical difficulty is met.

What is the most common type of variance request?
Referred to as "area variances", requests for relief to side/rear yard setbacks to allow for an addition or new building to encroach over the building line are the most common types of variance requests. Much less common is a "use variance" which allows a property owner to use the property in a manner which is not permitted by the zoning ordinance.

How do I know if a variance is needed?
A property owner or design professional contemplating construction should obtain a boundary survey depicting the lot lines and building dimensions of their property and should refer to the zoning ordinance to determine lot coverage and setback restrictions. If the project cannot meet the provisions of the zoning ordinance and the owner feels that a severe hardship exists, a variance can be sought. If a project requires a variance, the owner must receive approval from the Board of Adjustment granting the variance prior to applying for additional approvals from the City including site plan review and architectural review.

What criteria must be met for a variance request to be granted?
The owner of the land or property must prove that there are severe practical difficulties or hardships associated with the provisions of the zoning ordinance. Hardships may include the shape of the lot, topography or other natural situation not the fault of the applicant. The owner must also prove that alternatives to the variance were considered and the variance is the best course of action. The requested variance must not cause an undesirable change to the character of the neighborhood or a detrimental physical or environmental impact on the community. Economic concerns are not a viable reason for a variance request.

Who reviews the variance requests?
The Board of Adjustment, a 5 member Board, is responsible for hearing and deciding all variance requests. Board members consist of 5 regular members and 3 alternates and are appointed for 5 year terms.

When does the Board of Adjustment meet?
The Board of Adjustment generally meets on the first Thursday of the month at 5:00 p.m. in the 2nd floor Council Chambers at City Hall, 10 N. Bemiston Ave.

How do I apply for a variance?
The first step in the process is to submit an application for a zoning review letter from the Planner or Building Official stating that the proposed project does not meet the provisions of the zoning ordinance. A Zoning Review application and $50.00 application fee is required in order to receive the zoning letter. After the zoning letter has been issued, the owner may then submit a completed Appeal for a Variance application and $350.00 fee (including cost of advertising) and provide 14 copies of the following items: 

  • A current boundary survey depicting lot size and currently existing improvements
  • A site plan indicating building lines, property lines and exact variance request
  • Sketch elevations of the exterior of the building

The deadline to submit for zoning review is the last Friday of the month. The appeal to the Board of Adjustment application deadline is the first Friday of the month. If all the application procedures have been met, the project will be placed on the following month's agenda.

Will my neighbors be notified of my request?
Yes. A notice will be mailed to all adjoining property owners and a sign be placed in the yard of the subject property providing the proposed variance request, time and date of the Board of Adjustment hearing. Additionally, the notice will be published in the legal newspaper of St. Louis County at least 15 days prior to the hearing.

Is there an application fee?
The application fee for Zoning Review is $50.00 and the application fee for an Appeal for a Variance is $350.00 (including cost of advertising).