Entering the 'Maze of Zoning'

In Virginia Beach, VA, homeowner Herbert Harris was told that the wheelchair ramp and extra bedroom he was building for his wife and ill daughter needed building permits. Thus began a trip down the rabbit hole of the Board of Zoning Appeals.
January 13, 2009, 12pm PST | Tim Halbur
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"In November, a Circuit Court decision raised the legal threshold for granting variances. Establishing "undue hardship" - the justification for making exceptions - had become increasingly important.

City staffers recommended that all the variances heard Wednesday be denied because they didn't meet the new standard.

Welcome to the imperfect world of the Board of Zoning Appeals, where folks who want to build an addition, a deck or a porch become intimately familiar with the maze of city zoning laws, and where 18 inches can mean the difference between keeping or losing your new shed.

Members of the zoning appeals board are appointed to five-year terms by the City Council and essentially act as a panel of judges. They enforce the code while allowing for common-sense flexibility and exceptions.

"The hardship was, we're sympathetic," board member Joan Wright said.

"Sorry. Not good enough," replied Wilson, who never did hear a legal-hardship explanation for the case.

In November, a Circuit Court decision raised the legal threshold for granting variances. Establishing "undue hardship" - the justification for making exceptions - had become increasingly important."

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Published on Monday, January 12, 2009 in The Virginian-Pilot
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