Since the pandemic unfolded, one of the most-used keywords for the way we live is flexibility.
Now, towns across the United States are asking if the old, rigid approach to zoning meets our evolving needs.
Take Seattle. There, the City Council has just decided to let condo and rental towers replace a string of struggling retail buildings along Third Avenue. The goal? Residential high-rises over storefronts. Taller towers (up to 440 feet — more than double Seattle’s prior height limit) will soon be allowed, as part of a downtown revitalization effort.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis summed things up: “Downtowns have to evolve.” The entire council agreed — though some still opposed this particular change, believing that it doesn’t go far enough in creating affordable units for the city’s downtown core.
That said, Seattle’s point is made. Struggling commercial downtowns are fair game to convert — at least partially — into residential zoning.
You have big plans for your home. You might have a native garden in mind. Or your plans might involve putting a little cottage in back of the main house. Maybe it’s a solar system you want. Or maybe it’s a simple, rustic fence. Perhaps you’re keen to start a home-based business, or offer space to college students.
But what happens if your best-laid plans collide with your town’s zoning rules?
That doesn’t mean you’ve hit a wall. A deviation from the rules might be OK — with permission. Often, this means requesting a variance. Without further ado, here are a few practical things to know about variances.