When citizens desire to build a structure, they must submit plans to the Department of Inspection Services at Dr. Mae Jackson Development Center located at 401 Franklin Avenue or submit plans on line. At that point the Building Official will review the plans to see if they conform to the Building and Zoning Code standards, which the city has adopted. If strict enforcement of the ordinance creates a hardship for the applicant, the applicant is referred to the Department of Planning Services to seek relief through the Zoning Board of Adjustment in one or more of the following categories:
If the applicant for the building permit cannot conform his plan to the Zoning Code, which regulates land use, yard setbacks, height limits, lot sizes, etc., then he may be able to apply for a variance to the standard. In order to grant a variance from an ordinance requirement, the Board must find that a hardship condition exists which is unique, necessary, not only a financial hardship, and was not created by the owner.
Hardship conditions inherent to the property may include such conditions as irregular lot shape, steep topography, location of existing creeks and trees, placement of existing buildings, or other unusual circumstances, which make code compliance impractical. For example, if a variance would permit a structure to encroach into the zoning setback in order to avoid cutting down a mature tree, it might be granted on the basis that both the property and the community as a whole would benefit from the preservation of the tree. Example: If the property owner wants to build a larger house than the zoning setbacks on a lot accommodate, the hardship may be considered self-induced and not an appropriate basis for a variance.
State law guarantees each property owner a reasonable use of his property. This is not however, an unlimited right to develop, but must be consistent with the local governments' Land Use Plan and Zoning Maps. The Land Use Plan sets the amounts and locations of residential, office, commercial, and industrial development. Zoning translates this Land Use Plan into specific classifications and delineates which specific uses that can occur in each zone. A nonconforming use is an activity of a business that was begun prior to the enactment or change of a zoning code or district that now prohibits this use. All of these nonconforming uses are destined for redevelopment someday that will conform to zoning, but in the meantime, the Zoning Board of Adjustment has the authority to make certain special provisions to allow for their useful life to run its optimum course. As a minimum, the Zoning Ordinance provides that a nonconforming use is allowed to continue in use in a limited capacity until its building is damaged or destroyed to an extent greater than 60% of its fair market value, or until the use is discontinued for two years. The use cannot be expanded unless permission is granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Board may require the discontinuation and amortization of a nonconforming use. For buildings occupied by nonconforming uses, the Board may permit up to 50% expansion of the building, as long as it does not prevent the long-term return of the building to a conforming use and provided that side yard requirements can be met. The Board may also permit a change in use to another nonconforming use, providing the proposed nonconforming use is less intrusive and more compatible to the zoning district.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment also hears and decides appeals where there is an alleged error made by the Building Official in any order, requirement, or decision of determination in the administration or enforcement of the ordinance.