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A Variance Can Provide Relief from Strict Zoning Regulations

by | Aug 18, 2015 | Firm News, Zoning & Land Use

Early on, the authors of Connecticut’s zoning laws recognized that in unique circumstances it might be unfair to apply local zoning requirements to some properties within a given zoning district.  So they created an escape valve administered by the local Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) which is the only agency authorized to grant variances from the zoning regulations.

Obtaining a variance.

Make no mistake about it, variances are not easily obtained. After all, a basic principle of zoning is that the regulations should be uniform throughout a zoning district. However, where a “literal enforcement” of the regulations would “result in exceptional difficulty or unusual hardship” the ZBA can vary the zoning regulations. The ZBA’s granting of variances allows something which would otherwise violate the zoning regulations.


The courts have limited the ZBA’s right to grant variances to only those instances where there is a finding of “unusual hardship.” That hardship must be unique and different than that generally affecting properties within the same zoning district. Economic hardship is not sufficient. Moreover, self-created or personal hardships are not permitted to justify a variance. Instead, there must be something unusual about the property itself to justify a variance. The shape of the lot, its topography, or its size are examples of arguments that may satisfy the hardship requirement if a strict application of the zoning regulations would preclude a reasonable use of the land.

Your neighbor’s opposition could effect the decision.

Furthermore, in an effort to insure that variances are sparingly granted, state law requires that at least four of the five voting members of the ZBA vote to approve a variance. Any neighbor opposition to the request only adds to the burden on the applicant.

A carefully worded application is key to approval.

Variances can provide relief from a strict application of your local zoning regulations; but, your application and presentation to the ZBA must be carefully crafted so as to satisfy the many requirements for the proper approval of a variance. Cacace, Tusch & Santagata can help you navigate the requirements of your local zoning regulations and, if necessary, pursue a variance to the ZBA and through all levels of appeal.