Planning Variances

Per Section 306 of the San Francisco Planning Code, notices for variances are sent out at least ten days prior to the hearing. Take away postal delays, and the reaction time to a variance can be quite small.

To be granted a variance, a developer needs to meet five specific elements. These are listed in section 305 of the SF Planning code and are quoted here as follows:

No variance shall be granted in whole or in part unless there exist, and the Zoning Administrator specifies in his findings as part of a written decision, facts sufficient to establish:

  1. That there are exceptional or extraordinary circumstances applying to the property involved or to the intended use of the property that do not apply generally to other property or uses in the same class of district;
  2. That owing to such exceptional or extraordinary circumstances the literal enforcement of specified provisions of this Code would result in practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship not created by or attributable to the applicant or the owner of the property;
  3. That such variance is necessary for the preservation and enjoyment of a substantial property right of the subject property, possessed by other property in the same class of district;
  4. That the granting of such variance will not be materially detrimental to the public welfare or materially injurious to the property or improvements in the vicinity; and
  5. That the granting of such variance will be in harmony with the general purpose and intent of this Code and will not adversely affect the Master Plan.

Letters of support or protest of variance should be sent to the zoning administrator cc: the respective planner to arrive at least the day before the scheduled hearing.

An appropriate letter will justify that the five elements above have or have not been met and cite examples as to why that is the case. The fact that the proposed structure which requires a variance is causing some inconvenience to others, such as it will take away from views or that the building is ugly will be weak arguments if not just totally invalid ones.

It is strongly recommended that if you have questions regarding the variance that you contact the cognizant planner as listed on the variance notice. Our recent experience is that the San Francisco Planning Department staff is very responsive to the public.

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