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Variances

Cities acknowledge that reasonable exceptions to certain land use regulations are occasionally necessary.  Exceptions (known as “variances”) generally involve a unique practical hardship at a specific site, where strict conformance with the law would create an unnecessary hardship serving no legitimate public purpose.  For this reason, Hannibal, like most cities, has a Board of Adjustment; a body whose purpose is to consider case-by-case applications for relief from specific zoning codes.

An example may involve a house constructed in 1975; built with the required front setback of 35 feet.  In 1985, MoDOT widened the main road by adding two extra lanes, resulting in the home being setback by only 20 feet today.  If the resident now wishes to expand the home or build an attached garage, he cannot honor the required 35 foot front setback.  This resident would apply to the Board of Adjustment for a 15 foot variance from the setback regulation, allowing the home expansion or garage to be built.  In this case, the solution is practical for both the resident (who has a right to reasonably expand his home) and the city (who favors property improvements and expansions, and recognizes the resident has no other alternative).

Variances are typically granted where unique site conditions render the property less usable, due to no fault of the property owner.  Unique practical hardships often exist on property with peculiar site dimensions or configurations, unique topography, unusual terrain, unique soil compositions, adjacent land use decisions that have impacted your property, etc.

The Board of Adjustment will not grant variances for basic Use of the property.  For instance, if a person wishes to build a factory in a residentially-zoned neighborhood (which is not allowed), he cannot apply to the Board of Adjustment for relieve from the basic list of "Permitted Uses" allowed on that property.  Instead, the person must apply to the Planning and Zoning Commission to have the property rezoned for industrial use.  In short, the Board of Adjustment cannot be used to circumvent the rezoning proces.

Once granted, a variance becomes attached to the property itself; not to the individual property owner who obtained it.  If the property should later change hands, all rights remain with the property, and the new owner enjoys all privileges bestowed by that variance.  The property owner who obtained the variance does not transfer those rights to his new home.

Variances are not intended for situations involving financial hardship, nor situations where a property owner is clearly attempting to overbuild the land (variances are for unique practical hardships owing to peculiar site conditions).  For instance, the investor of a new commercial development having difficulty affording paving costs would not be granted a variance from the required paving regulations.  Nor would this same investor be granted a variance from setback regulations if he were trying to fit a 30,000 square foot building onto a single acre of land.  It is the Board of Adjustment's job to recognize, isolate, and evaluate the unique practical hardship, and consider its true legitimacy.

With any request for variance request, the Board of Adjustment must hold a public hearing, and they make the final decision.  Upon receipt of an application for variance, the city must advertise the hearing in a newspaper, and send notice to all owners of property within 300 feet of the proposed site, advising of the time and date of the hearing.  By law, the Board of Adjustment requires four (4) votes (out of 5 total members) to grant a variance.

If you have any questions about variances, feel free to contact us during normal business hours at 573-221-0111 ext. 216.