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The Role of Variances and Special Exceptions in Florida Land Use Termination and Dispute Resolution Law

Zoning laws are local ordinances that govern the use and development of land within a specific area.  Here in Florida, municipalities and counties establish laws to ensure that land use aligns with the goals and values of the communities.  Land use laws, variances, and special exceptions play a critical role in managing deviations from zoning regulations and resolving disputes.


A variance is legal permission to deviate from specific zoning regulations granted by a local zoning authority.  It is typically sought when strict application of the zoning law creates a hardship or practical difficulty for a property owner.  The purpose of a variance is to provide flexibility and allow property owners to use their land in a manner that would otherwise be prohibited by the zoning ordinance without undermining the overall zoning plan.

In order for a variance to be granted, the applicant must demonstrate that they will suffer undue hardship due to the zoning regulation and that the hardship is not self-created.  The hardship must be unique to the property and not generally applicable to other properties in the area.  Also, granting the variance must not adversely affect the public interest or impair the intent and purpose of the zoning regulations.

Property owners must submit an application to the local zoning board or planning commission detailing the nature of the variance and the reasons for the request.  A public hearing is typically held where neighbors and other interested parties can provide input.  Then, the zoning board reviews the application, considers public input, and makes a decision based on established criteria.

The two main types of variances are:

Use Variance:  This allows a property owner to use the land in a way that is not permitted under the current zoning classification (e.g., operating a business in a residential zone).

Area Variance: This allows deviations from physical or dimensional requirements (e.g., setbacks, building height, lot coverage, etc.).

Special Exceptions

A special exception (also known as a conditional use permit) is permission granted to use land in a way that is not allowed by right under the zoning ordinance but is recognized as potentially acceptable under certain conditions.  The purpose of a special exception is to allow land uses that are beneficial or necessary for the community, but require additional oversight to ensure compatibility with surrounding uses.

The proposed use must be compatible with surrounding land uses and not adversely affect the character of the neighborhood, and the use must comply with the community’s comprehensive plan and other relevant regulations.  Specific conditions may be imposed to mitigate potential adverse impacts, such as noise, traffic, or environmental effects

Applicants must submit detailed plans and descriptions of the proposed use to the local planning authority.  Similar to variances, a public hearing is usually required to gather input from the community.  The planning authority reviews the application and public input and imposes conditions as necessary before granting approval.

Ensuring Compliance with Legal Requirements

Variances and special exceptions provide flexibility in zoning laws allowing properties to adapt to changing conditions and needs without requiring a complete rezoning.  These tools help resolve conflicts between property owners and local governments by providing a legal pathway to modify or adapt zoning regulations.  By providing a structured administrative process for requesting variances and special exceptions, these mechanisms reduce the need for litigation.  Property owners have a clear, legally sanctioned method for seeking relief from zoning restrictions.  Public hearings and community input processes help address potential disputes early, providing a forum for concerns to be raised and addressed before formal legal action becomes necessary.

The criteria for granting variances and special exceptions ensure that decisions are made consistently and fairly, based on established guidelines rather than arbitrary judgment.  These processes balance the interests of individual property owners with the broader community and public interest, helping to maintain harmony in land use planning.

Navigating Florida's Land Use Regulations

Variances and special exceptions are vital components of Florida land use law, providing necessary flexibility within the zoning framework.  They enable property owners to address unique circumstances and hardships while ensuring that the broader goals of the zoning plan are met.  Unfortunately, state and local government regulations are complex and comprehensive.

I’m Rob Robinson, a 5th generation Floridian and have well over two decades of experience in guiding clients through the local government land use code enforcement process.  I am familiar with aspects of approvals and permitting of a project, from large to small, including variances and special exceptions in land use termination and dispute resolution law.

Please contact my office today to discuss any questions or needs that you have regarding land use regulations.

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