Variance Committee

Background

The County Zoning Code, among many other things, requires properties and improvements to properties to conform to certain requirements. Three examples of these are where a building can be placed with respect to the property lines (setbacks), how much of the property can be built upon (lot coverage), and the permitted location and size of fences (these are more strictly regulated by the City).

A strict application of these standards sometimes causes practical difficulties or hardships for property owners. To allow for this, a mechanism called a variance is used.

The Players

  • The County Board of Appeals, which holds hearings and issues rulings on variance cases. The County Council has delegated this authority to the City of College Park for properties within the City.
  • The College Park City Council, which makes final decisions on variance cases within City limits. To lessen the resulting load on the City Council, the City has delegated the hearing and fact gathering aspects of a variance case to the City’s Advisory Planning Commission (APC).
  • The City’s Advisory Planning Commission (APC), which holds a public hearing about a variance case, gathers facts and evidence, and makes a recommendation to the City Council. The APC is an appointed City commission.
  • The Applicant, which is the property owner for a particular case and the person requesting the variance(s).
  • City Planning Staff, which does background research and presents a report and recommendation to the APC.
  • Owners of adjacent properties.
  • Civic association where the property is located; e.g., NCPCA.
  • Any concerned citizen

The Process

  1. The Applicant applies for a building permit from the County and the City, and one or both of these bodies may inform the Applicant that a variance is required before the permit can be issued. Alternately, City Code Enforcement cites the property for construction without a permit or for a structure that is in violation of City Code; e.g., a new fence.
  2. The Applicant contacts City Planning Staff, who reviews the case with the Applicant. After the Applicant files an application Staff schedules a hearing with the APC.
  3. Staff notifies all adjacent property owners (each side, rear, and across the street) of the property and the date and time of the hearing; this is required by law. Staff also notifies NCPCA. This allows all parties to give evidence in the case.
  4. The APC hears the case. It accepts evidence and testimony from Staff, the Parties of Record, and any other concerned individual who wants to testify. NCPCA can testify at this point or submit a written statement through its Variance Committee. The APC then votes and makes a recommendation to City Council.
  5. Staff prepares a Resolution for City Council based on the APC recommendation for the case and schedules it for City Council action.
  6. The Applicant, as well as any Party of Record, may appeal the APC recommendation to the City Council. If this is done, City Council hears the appeal and makes a final decision.
  7. If there is no appeal, City Council acts upon the recommendation; it may approve the variance as recommended, or hear the case itself.
  8. The Applicant, as well as any Party of Record, may appeal the final decision to the Circuit Court.

Reason for Variance Committee

Motivation

The APC meets every first Thursday of the month, and typically decides a variance case that evening. NCPCA meets the second Thursday of the month. This makes it impossible for NCPCA to weigh in on a variance case unless that case is continued. There have been many instances where NCPCA members have wanted to support or contest a requested variance, but did not have the means to do so.

Purpose

To remedy this NCPCA created the Variance Committee. Its purpose is to review variance requests within NCPCA’s area and provide the City and the APC an official position on behalf of NCPCA.

Composition

The Variance Committee must be small enough to respond quickly, have enough active members to be representative of the general NCPCA membership, be able to interact with the City by email, and be willing to give serious consideration to the requests that come before it. NCPCA members have chosen a committee size of 3 to 5 persons, all of whom must be NCPCA members. How the committee operates is governed by rules and procedures, which are listed below.

How To Volunteer

If you would like to volunteer to serve on the Variance Committee, contact the NCPCA President, who can appoint you to the next vacancy.

Variance Committee Procedures

The North College Park Community Association (NCPCA) Variance Committee (VC) has authority to review and take positions of ‘Opposed’, ‘Not Opposed’, or ‘No Position’ regarding variance requests on behalf of NCPCA.  This document describes the composition, procedures and authority of the VC and how it interacts with the City of College Park Planning Department , the Advisory Planning Commission (APC), and NCPCA.

1.    The VC shall consist of 3 to 5 NCPCA Members appointed by the NCPCA President and approved by the Membership once per year in December or as vacancies occur; the Chair of the VC shall also be selected at that time.

2.    The VC Chair shall receive documents from the City of College Park Planning Department via e-mail regarding variance requests and upcoming variance hearings.  These documents are typically brief notices that contain the case identification, property address, applicant name, and the variance(s) requested, of which there may be several.  The Chair shall promptly distribute these documents to VC members via e-mail.

3.    The members of the VC, including the Chair, shall consider the merits of each variance request in light of the criteria for variances and communicate to the Chair via e-mail their judgement of ‘Opposed’ or ‘Not Opposed’ regarding each such request.  Since there may be multiple variance requests per case, VC members may make different decisions on each request.  VC members are encouraged to state the reasoning for their position on each request. This reasoning, as well as any comments, shall also be sent to the Chair at that time and all shall become part of the Report of the VC.

4.    The Chair shall send the Report of the VC via e-mail to the designated officer of NCPCA, usually President.

5.    If at least three VC members agree on a position of ‘Opposed’ or ‘Not Opposed’ to a given variance request, the Report shall state that position as the VC’s position for that request, and the Chair shall send a separate report via e-mail to the Planning Department that communicates the following information:

a.    The identification number and/or name of the case.b.    The position of the VC – but not the vote – regarding each variance request in the case, with a statement that the VC has been authorized by NCPCA to give notice of their ‘Opposed’ or ‘Not Opposed’ when the City makes its decision regarding the request.  When possible include the reasoning behind the position.c.    A request that the NCPCA be formally named as a party of record in the case.

d.    A request to be informed via e-mail sent to the Chair and to the Officers of NCPCA of the decision(s) of the APC or the Mayor and Council, and to receive notice and any other information regarding the case, future hearings, etc.  The Chair will provide the e-mail addresses for this use.

6.    If less than three VC members agree on a position for a given variance request, the Chair shall proceed as above for that request except that step ‘b’ shall give notice that the VC has considered the matter, has taken ‘No Position’ regarding the request, and that the NCPCA reserves the right to take a position regarding the request at some future date.

7.    At the next NCPCA meeting, the Chair of the VC or an alternate shall report the actions of the VC since the last NCPCA meeting, including any requests upon which the VC took ‘No Position’.

8.    If any NCPCA member wishes to move a position regarding a variance request upon which the VC did not take a position, the membership may wish to entertain a motion at that time.

9.    The NCPCA may also move to adopt a different position from that taken by the VC if it chooses; communication of that motion to the City shall not be the responsibility of the VC.  Note, however, that if the case has been closed and is not reopened, NCPCA may not be permitted to change its position.

10.  In the event a Member of the VC suffers a prolonged absence, or an inability or unwillingness to participate in the deliberations of the VC, or resigns from the VC, the Chair shall inform the NCPCA President of the need to replace the Member.  The President shall place the matter on the agenda of the next NCPCA meeting, and any NCPCA member may nominate a replacement.  The replacement shall be affirmed by majority of the NCPCA members present.  Should the Chair resign or be unable or unwilling to serve, the President may appoint a current VC member as Chair.

Adopted February 14, 2008
Revised December 10, 2009

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: