Seeking a variance is a legal process that allows property owners to build structures or use land in a way that is contrary to the local zoning regulations. Variances are meant to be used sparingly. Granting a variance is based on a practical difficulty or a particular hardship that is directly related to the property and related uses.

Variance Criteria

Variances are not intended for property owners who wish to use their property or construct a building that is not otherwise allowed under the current zoning regulations simply because the regulations are an inconvenience. Equally important, the board of zoning appeals (BZA) and the city council cannot approve variances on a case-by-case basis. All variances are subject to very stringent guidelines established by the judicial system, state statute, and the El Paso Zoning Ordinance.

Before granting a variance, the BZA and city council must consider the following:

  • The negative impacts the requested use or deviation from the code will create for adjacent properties.
  • The plight of the owner is due to unique circumstances and that the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the locality.
  • The property in question cannot yield a reasonable return if permitted to be used only under the conditions allowed by the regulations governing the district in which it is located.

The property owner must satisfy all three criteria before a variance can be granted. For additional detail regarding variance criteria, please review the Variance Guidelines and Criteria.

Variance Process

1. Pre-Application Meeting

Prior to a property owner/applicant submitting an application for a variance, the applicant is required to meet with city staff to discuss the variance criteria, variance process, and whether the staff will support the request for variance. City staff may also propose an alternative to the variance process that would allow the applicant to achieve his/her goal through the existing zoning regulations without pursuing a variance.

Following the pre-application meeting the applicant may submit an application for a variance. A non-refundable fee of $250.00 must also be submitted at the time of application. This fee is for the cost incurred by the city for processing the variance request and will not be refunded to the applicant if the variance is denied.

Please see the Variance Application for a complete list of documentation that must be submitted

2. Board of Zoning Appeals Hearing

After the variance application, supporting documentation and non-refundable fee has been submitted, city staff will review the application and prepare a staff report for the board of zoning appeals. A public hearing is required for a variance requests before the board of zoning appeals (BZA). The chairperson will open the public hearing for each case to hear presentations by city staff, the owner or authorized agent (applicant), and the audience, respectively. After all parties have had the opportunity to speak, the BZA will close or continue the public hearing to a later date. After the public hearing is closed, discussion will be limited to the BZA members and city staff. Action by the board will be taken in the form of a recommendation for approval or denial to the city council.

3. City Council Action

Variance requests require approval by the city council, which typically meets on the first and third Monday of each month in the council chambers of city hall located at 125 W. Front Street at 7:00 p.m. The format of the meeting is similar to that used by the BZA and applicants should be prepared to answer questions posed by the city council. If necessary, after the city council has listened to the presentations and to any public comments, they will discuss the application prior to taking formal action. The city council can approve the variance, approve with conditions, deny, or remand the application back to the BZA for further review.

The city council decision shall be final.

Should a variance be approve by the city council, the applicant is responsible for obtaining a building permit and other approvals prior to construction of the building or use of the property.