Lighter Moments -- A Hardship Variance

Eric Damian Kelly's picture

DISCLAIMER:  This is a true story, but I do not pretend that it has great social significance.  Just one of those many "lighter moments" in a planning career.

I was in my home state of Colorado, at a zoning board meeting.  I do not recall why I was there (it must have worked out satisfactorily, or I would remember).  I do remember one case that the board heard, however. 

Colorado generally adheres to the "hardship" rule for variances.   The board that evening had heard several cases and asked about the hardships in each.  Late in the agenda, they called the case of a man who had been watching and listening attentively.  He had a single-family home on a 7,500 square foot lot (numbers are vague in my memory, but numbers I use illustrate the point of the story) in a district that required a 6,000 square foot lot.  That district allowed duplexes on 9,000 square feet.  It did not allow mobile homes.  He wanted to put a mobile home in his back yard, which, of course, required a lot-size variance, a variance on the type of structure, and some dimensional variances from setbacks.  He was ready to tell his story.

"Well, it's about my mother in law.  She's getting along in years.  My wife has two sisters and a brother, but they all moved away and they never do anything useful for their mother.  So my wife has to look after her.  She's getting to the stage that she really cannot live on her own anymore.  If you knew my mother-in-law, you would know that living in the same house with her would be a REAL hardship......"

The board granted the variance.  

Eric Damian Kelly is a professor of urban planning at Ball State University and a vice president of Duncan Associates.



Josh Stephens's picture

Great Story

I'm not sure that this doesn't have social significance. It's gratifying to know that a supposedly impassive, imposing public body can be human and have a sense of humor! If all planning stories were like this one -- and not mired in data, interest-group politics, and specious reports -- we'd probably all get along a lot better. :)

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