June 21st, 2017

Imagine you own a house that was built in the early 1900’s, it has a lot of character, unique architectural features, and comes with a laundry list of changes you’d like to make to it.

Let’s face it, open concept wasn’t really a thing back then, however, you are determined to make the best of the situation as you see plenty of potential in the building. There’s a catch though. The position of your existing house encroaches on the side yard setback and you’re over the allowable height limit set out in the zoning bylaw. So, what do you do?

That’s where the Board of Variance comes into play.

The Board of Variance is an independent body made up of volunteers that each municipality is required to maintain in order to provide relaxations to the current zoning bylaw. A relaxation may be provided if the property owner can establish that the current zoning bylaw creates an undue hardship upon their property.

How does this apply to your house? Well, as mentioned above, we stated that it was built way back in the day. Odds are that, at the time, the zoning bylaw was much different and allowed narrower side yard setbacks and much taller buildings. Fast forward to today and we still need to maintain and update the house, maybe even considering expanding the footprint to accommodate a growing family? Does the current zoning bylaw prevent you from doing that?

Under certain situations, the Board of Variance may look at it and see that a minor addition out the back of the house is completely suitable to approve despite being over height and encroaching on the side yard setback.

One of the key factors the board of variance will look for on the application is whether your neighbours support the proposal. One recommendation I always make once I complete the concept drawings is to have the owners go door to door to sell the renovation idea to their neighbours. By law, the city will have to send out a notification to each neighbour before the scheduled meeting so that they are given an opportunity to voice their concerns, which could ultimately alter the ruling of the Board of Variance. Getting to know your neighbour’s concerns and having us work that into our plans so that they support the proposed renovation is a strong first step.

The other major aspect of the variance application would be to maintain the original look and feel of the building. We generally want to make sure that the proposed work compliments the building tastefully and that it does not exceed the existing building height or side yard encroachment already in place. Most neighbours look at a renovation favourably as it will most likely increase the value of their property and enhance the streetscape in a positive way.

In my experience, the Board of Variance takes a logical approach to any application put forward to them. You are dealing with a group of concerned citizens who care greatly about the future of their municipality and want to see it develop and maintain its attractiveness. Coming forward with a great design solution and neighbourhood support always increases the likelihood of your application being approved. The best thing about it, depending on which municipality you are in, is that you can normally go through that entire process within one month from your application date. Once approved, you can simply apply for your building permit immediately and be on your way