The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) is empowered to modify zoning requirements pertaining to lot dimensions and/or for coverage, bulk, height, setback, and placement of buildings and structures on a lot or parcel of land. These modifications are granted through Variances and BZA Use Permits.
The BZA grants Variances to allow for relief from the strict application of certain zoning regulations where there is evidence of a hardship due to the circumstances of a lot. Common Variance requests include:
- Allowing for the creation of and/or construction on a lot which does not meet minimum required dimensional standards, such as lot area or average lot width;
- Allowing buildings and structures (including fences) to exceed district height limits;
- Allowing buildings and other improvements (such as parking areas) to exceed lot coverage limits;
- Allowing residential dwellings to exceed main building footprint coverage and square footage limits;
- Allowing buildings and/or structures to encroach into required street and lot line setbacks;
- Allowing additions, expansions, and/or alterations to existing nonconforming buildings.
Variances cannot change the zoning district of a property or otherwise allow a use that is not permitted in a zoning district. Variances cannot grant relief to zoning requirements that are under the special exception purview of the Planning Commission and/or the Arlington County Board, such as County Board Use Permits or Site Plans.
For the BZA to grant a Variance, there must exist a hardship due to a physical condition relating to the property or improvements thereon. In addition, the granted Variance must demonstrate one or more of the following:
- That the strict application of the terms of the Zoning Ordinance would unreasonably restrict the utilization of the property.
- That granting the Variance alleviates a hardship due to a physical condition relating to the property or improvements thereon which existed upon the effective date of the Zoning Ordinance.
- That granting the Variance alleviates a hardship by providing a reasonable modification to the property or improvements thereon to accommodate persons with a disability.
Aside from the existence of a hardship, all Variances must meet the following criteria:
- That the property was acquired in good faith and that any hardship was not created by the applicant.
- That granting the Variance will not be of substantial detriment to adjacent property and nearby properties in proximity to that geographical area.
- That the condition or situation of the property is not so general or recurring as to make reasonably practicable to formulate a regulation which can be adopted as an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance.
- That granting the Variance would not result in a change in use that is otherwise not permitted or change the zoning classification of the property.
The BZA may impose conditions that it deems necessary in the public interest, including limiting the duration of the Variance. If approved, a Variance must be put into effect within one (1) year of the date of the approval or it shall be null and void.
BZA Use Permits
Arlington County Zoning Ordinance (ACZO) §15.6.6 allows the BZA to grant Use Permits that modify the placement of structures on lots that are in R-20, R-10, R-8, R-6, R-5, and R2-7 districts, where there is no option in the Zoning Ordinance to allow modification of requirements by the County Board, such as Special Exception Use Permits or Site Plans.
The BZA shall not approve a Use Permit unless it finds that the proposal:
- Will not affect adversely the health or safety of persons residing in the neighborhood.
- Will not be detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to property or improvements in the neighborhood.
- Will not be in conflict with the purposes of the master plans and land use and zoning-related policies of the County.
In determining whether the proposal will be detrimental to the public welfare, will be injurious to property or improvements in the neighborhood, or will adversely affect the health or safety of persons residing in the neighborhood, the Board of Zoning Appeals shall consider whether the modification will promote compatibility of development with the surrounding neighborhood because the structure’s overall size, footprint size, and placement are similar to those of the structures on the properties surrounding the lot in question; and whether the modification will help preserve natural land form, historical features, and/or significant trees and foliage.
The BZA will only approve a Use Permit if the above circumstances are met, so consider if the proposed addition or structure could be placed in another location or designed differently to avoid needing a BZA Use Permit.
The BZA may impose conditions that it deems necessary in the public interest, including limiting the duration of the Use Permit. If approved, the Use Permit must be put into effect within one (1) year of the date of the approval or it shall be null and void.
- The BZA holds a scheduled public hearing on applications for use permits and variances each month (except August) starting at 7 p.m., unless otherwise noticed.
- Early filings and a preapplication consultation with Zoning Division staff are advisable to determine the nature, need, and suitability of any request for a Use Permit or Variance.
- County staff takes the following actions:
- Notifying adjacent property owners of the request by mail.
- Posting notices on the property and in the immediate neighborhood.
- Ensuring a Public Notice describing each request is published twice in the Washington Times two (2) consecutive weeks prior to the week of the hearing.
- All applications and submitted materials are available for public examination. Requests to review material can be submitted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Once an application is accepted as complete, the application and submitted materials will be available online.
- Depending on the project for which a BZA Use Permit/Variance is requested, applicants may also need to apply for other permits, including, but not limited to, a Building Permit. For more information, contact the following groups:
You must complete a Board of Zoning Appeals – Variance or Use Permit application in Permit Arlington. Click “Create” and select “Zoning Application.”
- Review Permit Arlington online submission guidelines, which include document sizing and layout, recommended file naming conventions, and file type requirements.
- Read the BZA How-To Guide (for BZA Use Permits/Variances and Appeals).
- Use the BZA Use Permit/Variance application checklist to make sure the application is complete.
- A consent statement from the property owner is required if the applicant is not the current owner.
- The online application requires attachment of the following:
- Owner consent statement (if needed)
- Disclosure statement
- Statement of justification
- Certified survey plat
- Architectural drawings (required for most applications)
- Neighborhood outreach
Per the Zoning Ordinance and the Code of Virginia, applicants must file a disclosure of the equitable ownership and parties in interest of the real estate that is the subject of the application. The disclosure statement must be filed by the Final Filing Date for the application to be considered complete and accepted for processing. An incomplete or inaccurate disclosure statement may result in a deferral of the public hearing date for the application. As with all application information, the disclosure statement is available to the public for review.
- Partnership information must list all General and Limited Partners and be broken down successively until ONLY INDIVIDUAL PERSONS are listed.
- Corporate information and all stockholders (except those that are traded on a national or local stock exchange and have more than 500 shareholders) must list the names of officers and directors of the corporation. For corporations that are not traded on a national or local stock exchange, stockholders must be identified as well.
- Whenever a trust is listed, the beneficiaries must be identified.
- Addresses of partnerships, corporations, trusts, etc. must include the street address or post office box number, city, state, and zip code. Telephone numbers are not required.
- The disclosure statement should identify the nature of the interest of the persons and firms listed (i.e., owner, contract owner, lessee, general or limited partner, beneficiary, mortgage holder, etc.). The percent of interest is not required.
- The disclosure statement must be notarized, although it does not have to be notarized in Virginia.
Statement of Justification
For BZA Variance applications, describe the following:
- The physical characteristics of the property, e.g., exceptional narrowness, shallowness, size, shape, or unusual topography, or the condition of or developments on abutting property, including public streets and alleys.
- How the strict application of zoning requirements would prohibit or unreasonably restrict use or development of the property as a result of the above described conditions.
- How the size or placement of the proposal is justified by physical conditions and why a modified proposal could not be built in conformance with zoning requirements.
- What impacts, positive or negative, the proposal may have on abutting properties.
For BZA Use Permit applications, describe the following:
- What positive or negative effects the proposal will have on the health and safety of persons residing in the neighborhood.
- What positive or negative effects the proposal will have on the public welfare and on property or improvements in the neighborhood.
- Whether or not the proposal will be in conflict with the purposes of the master plans and land use and zoning-related policies of the County.
- Whether or not the proposal will promote compatibility of development with the surrounding neighborhood; i.e., whether the structure’s overall size, footprint size, and placement are similar to those of the structures on the properties surrounding the lot in question; and whether or not the proposal will help preserve natural land form, historical features, and/or significant trees and foliage.
Certified Survey Plat
Any Variance or BZA Use Permit request must be submitted with a certified survey plat of the subject property. It is strongly recommended that applicants provide two (2) separate plats: (1) a plat showing the existing conditions of the subject property, including setbacks to all relevant structures (including eaves), and (2) a plat showing the proposed condition of the subject property, including the proposed setbacks to all the same structures. Plats should conform with and provide the following:
- All plats must be to scale.
- Plats should be prepared by a surveyor or engineer licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
- Plats must show:
- All existing structures on the site, including additions, sheds, decks, garages, porches, stoops, swimming pools, etc., with dimensions to lot lines; and all driveways and parking and maneuvering space.
- All proposed improvements, drawn to scale with dimensions indicated (e.g., porches, garages, sheds, air conditioning units, room additions, and new dwellings).
- All easements for street purposes (e.g., public sidewalks, curb/gutter, planting strip, utilities, vehicle space) and stormwater and sanitary sewer lines, electrical service, and others.
- It is highly recommended that plats be no more than 10 years old. Older plats created without modern surveying technology may not show setback dimensions accurately. Ultimately, it is the sole responsibility of the applicant to submit correct information. Inaccuracies on plats may result in an application being deferred or denied. Inaccuracies may also result in a structure that cannot be built with the BZA’s approval or, when built in an incorrect location, a structure that necessitates subsequent applications to the BZA for building location errors, which are assessed at a higher fee.
It is strongly recommended that applicants provide floor plans and elevation drawings of existing conditions. All plans and elevations should provide the following details:
- Architectural drawings of proposed construction shall include a full set of elevation drawings showing all visible sides of the proposed structures.
- Architectural drawings must also include full floor plans indicating dimensions of changes and features desired.
- All notations must be legible.
- Consult the online submission guidelines for plans and drawings.
To assist the BZA in making required findings, applicants should include comments from adjacent property owners, other neighbors, and surrounding civic associations. If possible, have the neighbors provide a statement or sign a petition in support of the proposal. It is also advised that applicants discuss their project with the local civic association(s) and obtain a statement of support from the association(s). The BZA members consider an applicant’s outreach to their neighbors to be a very important part of the BZA’s process. Please make sure to read the following letter from the BZA to applicants outlining their expectations for neighbor outreach.
Public Hearing Procedures
- Cases are heard by the BZA at its monthly public hearing starting at 7 p.m. in the order they appear on the Public Notice. Hearings are informal in character, and BZA members may ask questions and comment at any time. See instructions for viewing and participating.
- The “burden of proof” in justifying the Use Permit or Variance is on the applicants. They are heard first. Anyone in support or opposition follows, with needed rebuttal time provided for the applicant.
- Speakers other than the applicants must pre-register online or by phone no later than 12 p.m. the day of the hearing.
- Written statements can accompany oral testimony. Photo slides of the property are shown and can be used to describe existing conditions and proposed developments.
- The BZA makes decisions on each case following testimony and discussion. Approvals are effective immediately and may include BZA-imposed modifications and conditions. A Building Permit application can be submitted the next day.
- Example of a generic condition imposed by the BZA: “The applicant agrees that the structure/addition shall be constructed in accordance with the footprint shown on the survey, and the architectural drawings attached to the staff report dated _________, and that no enlargement of the structure/addition may be made in any dimension shown on the plat or architectural drawings.”
- Deferred cases are usually heard by the BZA two (2) months after the original hearing.
- If granted, Use Permits and Variances must be put into effect (by receiving approval of a Building Permit by the Zoning Division) within one (1) year of approval. Lapsed approvals, changes in construction plans approved by the BZA by Variance, and denied requests can only be addressed via a new application.
- NOTE: The Zoning Division does not have the authority to permit changes or extensions to BZA approvals and/or conditions; thus, Building Permit plans submitted after approval of a BZA Use Permit or Variance may only be changed by repeating the BZA application and approval process. Re-application requires an applicant to pay the fees again and wait approximately two (2) months to be heard at the next scheduled hearing. Construction plan designs must be final when submitting a BZA application.
- Right to Appeal: Applicants or aggrieved persons can appeal BZA decisions to the Circuit Court of Arlington/Falls Church. Appellants must file a petition with the Circuit Court to review the decision within 30 days of the decision’s filing in the case record.
- Consult the schedule of public hearings and filing dates.
- The applicant for an approved BZA Use Permit/Variance must submit wall check plats after completion of the foundation walls and/or a final plat including eave lines and any other projections from the new structure.
- The type of plat required is determined at the time of the Zoning Plan Review. All plats must be to scale and certified by a licensed engineer/surveyor.
BZA filing fees are assessed after an application has been submitted and reviewed based both on the type of application and the number of subsections of the Zoning Ordinance that require modification or relief. BZA filing fees are collected regardless of outcome. If an application is withdrawn prior to the advertisement of the Public Notice for the hearing, 50% of the filing fee is refundable, but only upon written request.
BZA filing fees can be found in the Zoning Division Fee Schedule.
- View fee schedules and payment methods.
- Pay fees online through your account in the Permit Arlington customer portal.
Fee schedules provide the range of fees charged for each type of application or activity related to land development in Arlington. Fees cover permitting, plan review, enforcement, inspection, service delivery, performance agreements, and conditions. There are separate fee schedules for the Inspection Services Division (ISD), Zoning, and the Department of Environmental Services (DES). Some permits involve fees from more than one schedule.