Friday, July 18, 2008


All zoning ordinances contain provisions for variances. The web page for the city of Anchorage, Alaska states: "A variance is, in essence, permission to break the zoning law to give a defective property parity with neighboring properties." The specifics for receiving a variance differ from city to city, but they essentially amount to begging the zoning board for permission to use your property as you choose.

There are two aspects of this worthy of comment.

The first is that you need permission to use your property as you choose. Often that permission is granted only with the agreement of your neighbors. In other words, your neighbors have the final say so in how you use your property.

The second aspect is that there are exceptions to the zoning plan. In other words, the zoning plan isn’t really a plan. It’s just a guide that can be changed at the discretion of zoning officials—and your neighbors. Your neighbor could object for any reason, or no reason at all. He could simply be a jerk and deny you permission to build a deck onto the back of your house.

Any law that has exceptions is subjective by its nature. It means that applicability is left to the discretion of the ruling officials.

An agenda for a variance hearing in the town of Niskayuna, New York can be seen by clicking here.

Among the variances to be considered are: a garage that will be 17’ 6” from the property line rather than the prescribed 20’; an 80 square foot shed; and a 160 square foot shed. Public hearings will be held to determine if a property owner can construct a small shed on his property and non-owners of the property will make the determination.

Under these circumstances, a property owner cannot plan, because his plans may be thwarted. He cannot use his property as he chooses, but only with the permission of others. He cannot pursue his values without first obtaining the blessings of politicians, bureaucrats, and/ or noisy neighbors.

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