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The City of Oakland specifies development requirements (such as height, set back distances and parking requirements) for each zoning district. A Zoning Variance allows a departure from some of these requirements because of unusual conditions on the property. These conditions are related to topographic or physical characteristics of the site that prevent the project from meeting zoning requirements.
There are two types of Variances. Consult a planner at the Zoning Counter in the Permit Center to determine what type of variance applies to your project.
A Major Variance must be approved by the City Planning Commission. It involves any of the following provisions:
- Allowable activity types or facilities types
- Maximum number of living units
- Minimum lot areas, except as discussed in Section 17.106.010B of the Planning Code
- Maximum floor-area ratio, except for One Family Dwellings, One Family Dwellings with Secondary Unit, and Two Family Dwellings
- Maximum size of commercial or manufacturing establishments
- Restriction on over concentration of Residential Care, Service Enriched Permanent Housing, Transitional Housing, and Emergency Shelter Residential Activities as set forth in Subsection 17.103.010B of the Planning Code
A Minor Variance does not involve any of the provisions listed above and is approved by the Zoning Administrator.
What are the Justifications for Granting Variance Approval?
Four findings must be made prior to approving a variance. Generally, the findings show that each of the following conditions exist:
- There is a unique physical circumstance on the property.
- There is minimal difference between other properties in the same Zoning district.
- There will be no adverse impact on the neighborhood.
- The variance would not be a special privilege.
Process to Obtain a Variance Permit
- The applicant obtains information and an application at the Oakland Permit Center Zoning Counter.
- The applicant completes the application form including all required materials (e.g., drawings) and submits the application and Variance Permit fees to the Zoning Counter staff.
- Planning staff issues a public notice of the Variance Permit application The notice includes a 10-day public comment period for Minor Variance Permits and a City Planning Commission public hearing date for Major Variance Permits. The applicant is encouraged to attend the City Planning Commission hearing to answer any questions regarding the proposed project.
- When a decision on the application is made, Planning staff will send too the applicant a decision letter containing Zoning conditions of approval an appeal procedures.
- A Variance Permit for a specific project can expire one or two years after issuance if no building permit is issued or the approved activity (e.g., new business) is not established However, once granted the variance approval remains effective indefinitely.
More information and an application are available at the Oakland Permit Center Zoning Counter.
- Download information about the criteria/findings assessed in granting a Variance approval.
- Download the required criteria for signs.