Variance permits and change of use permits serve such similar functions it’s easy to confuse the two and not truly understand which permit you might need. In this article I am going to define and explain the difference between the two types of permits and when to use a permit application. I submit to you that these specific types of permits are not for the faint of heart and recommend that you get an expert involved. Without further ado let’s get to it!

Change of use Permits

This permit does exactly what the name implies: changes the use of a space. According to a city’s plan you can’t just change how you use a space without getting the city’s approval. The permit is intended to verify compliance with the applicable codes for a new use and provide a Certificate of Occupancy for new businesses or uses where there is no significant work that would otherwise require a building permit.

Getting this permit requires a visit to the planning department in a similar way as getting a variance permit or conditional use permit. Additionally you will be subject to reviews like: historical planning society, coastal commission if you reside near the ocean, city council, zoning requirements, and the neighborhood council, just to name a few…But, the good news is once the permit is obtained from that date forward the space will be use for that function. What I mean to say is, unlike conditional use permits, the use cannot be revoked. If the use is a restaurant then when another restaurant wants to use the space it’s not problem they can proceed with the tenant improvement and obtain that building permit package


Commercial Variance Permits

There are two broad categories of variances and The Practice of Local Government Planning, they are as follows:

“Area variance: It can be requested by a builder or landowner when an odd configuration of the land, or sometimes the physical improvements (structures) on the land, requires a relaxation of the applicable regulations to avoid denying the landowner the same rights and use the property enjoyed by owners of neighboring properties.” (The Practice of Local Government Planning (Third ed.))

For example, if an oddly shaped or sloped lot makes it difficult for the owner to comply with the legal setbacks specified by code and zoning law then they can request an area variance. In this way the balance between hardship on the landowner and public safety is maintained.

Use variance: authorizes a land use not normally permitting by the zoning ordinance. Grant of a use variance also can be similar, in effect, to a zone change.” (The Practice of Local Government Planning (Third ed.))

These types of commercial variance permits are very similar in process to a conditional use permit. Some municipalities prohibit these types of variances and because they require a complete change to the zoning codes of the city.