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Each zoning classification indicates specific development standards such as required setbacks from property line and maximum coverage of a lot. There are occasions, however, when strict application of such standards may be inappropriate because of special characteristics of the property. The variance procedure was designed to permit minor adjustments to the zoning regulations when there are special or extraordinary circumstances applying to a parcel of land or a building where "the strict application of (zoning) regulations ... (to a parcel of real property) deprives such property of privileges enjoyed by other properties in the vicinity and zone in which such property is located." A change of use cannot be permitted by the variance process.

The Planning Commission (PC), acting as the Board of Adjustments, shall review all variance requests. In approving a variance application, the PC may impose such conditions as deemed necessary to protect the best interests of the surrounding areas or neighborhood. It is important to stress, variances can only be granted if a finding of specific hardship as previously described is made. A variance cannot be granted to simply make property development less costly or to expand the use of the property.


Step 1 - Project Consideration

Early in the consideration of a potential project, the Zoning Ordinance should be carefully reviewed to determine if all regulations are met. Nevertheless, the need for a variance is often discovered when an application is made for a building permit or other City approval. The applicant should thoroughly investigate alternatives to see if there is any method to accomplish the purpose of the project without necessitating the need for a variance to zoning requirements.

Step 2 - Filing the Application

The applicant will submit the completed application, filing fee and other required information (see Application Submittal Requirements at end of this document) to the Community Development Department. Once the application has been filed:

A staff planner will be assigned to review the material to make sure all the required information is provided.

The applicant will be notified within 30 days after filing as to whether the application is complete or what additional information is required.

The fee for review of a variance is established by the City Council and is intended to offset the cost of the number of hours that professional staff spend on the project.

Step 3 - Environmental Review

Some variance requests are required to have an environmental assessment to determine if it is necessary to prepare an Environmental Impact Report. Information on timing and sequence of this process is contained in "A Guide to Procedures for Environmental Review."

Step 4 - Staff Review for Planning Commission

Once the application has been deemed complete, Planning staff will:

  • Evaluate the application by conducting a site investigation,
  • Review its conformance with the City's General Plan and zoning provisions,
  • Analyze the potential environmental impacts, and
  • Analyze any other issues unique to the proposed project.

A written staff report will be prepared for the PC which will analyze the development proposal and will include staff recommendations. A copy of this report will be sent to the applicant on the Friday before the scheduled PC hearing date. Copies of the report are also available to the public after they have been sent to the PC.

Step 5 - Planning Commission Review

The PC is required to hold at least one public hearing on the variance application. Once the application has been deemed complete:

  • Staff will prepare a public notice scheduling the variance application on the next available PC Agenda.
  • The notice must be posted no fewer than 10 days prior to the hearing date and must be mailed to every property owner and occupant within a 300 foot radius of the property site.
  • The notice will also be posted in City Hall and appear in the Marin Scope newspaper.

At the public hearing:

  • Staff will present a report and recommendation to the PC.
  • The staff presentation will be followed by testimony from the applicant and any interested persons who wish to comment on the application.

The PC may then make a decision to:

A. Conditionally approve the request,
B. Deny the request,
C. Postpone the decision to a later date, or
D. Keep the public hearing open and continue the hearing to a specified time, date, and place.

The PC will direct staff to prepare a resolution describing their decision which is adopted at their next meeting. The CC will acknowledge the PC action at the next scheduled CC meeting.

The PC decision will become final, when the Commission adopts the resolution, unless an appeal is filed as described in the next section.

Step 6 - Appeal to the City Council

Within 10 days after the adoption of a final resolution by the PC, an applicant, city resident, or affected property owner may submit an appeal of the PC's action tothe CC by filing an appeal form and appeal fee with the City Clerk. After the filing of an appeal, the following steps will take place:

A public hearing will be scheduled for the CC.

A notice of the time, date and place of the hearing will be mailed (at least 10 days prior to the hearing) to the appellant, the applicant, property owners within a 300 foot radius of the project site and to any other person requesting the notice.

Following the public hearing on the appeal, the Council may:

  • Refer the matter back to the PC for further review, or
  • Reverse, affirm or modify the decision of the PC.

The decision of the City Council is final.


The actual time for processing of a variance application will vary depending upon the complexity and magnitude of the proposal and staff and Commission workloads, but it is generally estimated as follows:

A. From completed application to PC public hearing: 3-4 WEEKS
B. From PC hearing to adoption of resolution: 2 WEEKS
C. From adoption of resolution to CC acknowledgment of PC action: 1-2 WEEKS
D. Total Estimated Process Time: 6-8 WEEKS


In addition to a letter of justification for variance making the six (6) required findings per Section 10.923.6 of Sausalito Municipal Code Title 10 (Zoning) the following must be submitted.

  1. Application fees.

  2. Appropriate Application forms that must be signed by the property owner and project applicant:

    Development Project Application
    Zoning Permit Application

  3. Nine (9) sets of plans, of black or blue line on white stock, at full size of a scale not less than 1/4" = 1'-0" for single-family residential; 1/8" = 1'-0" for all multiple-family residential, commercial and industrial.

  4. Plans MUST have the following information:

    Each sheet in the proposal shall be clearly identified with the name and address of the applicant, and dated.

    Plan views shall include a north arrow, and all plans shall indicate the scale to which drawn.

  5. Required Maps/Plans:

    A VICINITY MAP showing the relationship of the project to the uses, structures, parking, etc. of neighborhood.

    A SITE PLAN indicating the following:

    (a) Parcel dimensions
    (b) All existing and proposed buildings and structures: location, size, and proposed uses, including the location and use of the nearest structures on adjacent property.
    (c) Existing and proposed topographic contours of subject site.
    (d) Yards and open spaces between buildings.
    (e) Location of walls and fences.
    (f) Access and Off-street parking: location, number of spaces and dimensions of parking areas, internal circulation pattern and points of ingress and egress for pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
    (g) Loading: location, dimensions, number of spaces, and internal circulation.
    (h) Lighting: location and general nature, hooding devices.
    (i) Location, size, nature and use of all machinery, equipment, or materials to be erected, maintained or stored on the property exterior to any building.
    (j) The location, area and dimensions of public or private easements. Dedications and improvements required by the City shall be clearly indicated in terms of locations, area and dimensions.
    (k) Existing and proposed streets, ways, sewers, storm drains, fire hydrants, gas, water, power and telephone and other public utilities for the development

    A CURRENT TOPOGRAPHIC AND RECORD OF SURVEY prepared by a California licensed Civil Engineer or Land Surveyor showing parcel lines, location of all structures on site, distance of structures from parcel line at their closest point, existing easements and site topographic contours.

    FLOOR PLANS of all floor levels clearly indicating access, circulation, labeling of proposed uses.

    DEMOLITION PLANS clearly indicating those areas of the following that are to be removed entirely, to be removed and replaced, and that are to remain untouched: (a) Floors, ceilings and/or roofs (b) Interior and exterior walls

    ELEVATIONS of all four sides indicating their forms and general treatment; architectural drawings or sketches including building floor plans.

    SECTIONAL DRAWINGS through the site showing major natural features and neighboring structures in relation to the proposed development, indicating the heights of the buildings, structures, fill, etc., from the original grade, extent of any excavation, hillside cut, screening, existing and proposed grades, relations of site buildings, parking and landscaping to finish grade, and effects on views of development from neighboring properties.

    GRADING PLAN showing existing and proposed grades, and the extent of cut and fill, the slope angle of all banks, and the proposed drainage system. Contour lines of existing grades shall have the following maximum intervals:

    (a) Ten foot contour interval for ground slope over fifteen percent (15%);
    (b) Five foot contour interval for ground slope below fifteen percent (15%).

    All grades and elevations shall be based upon lower low water datum for any property below an elevation of fifteen (15') feet above lower low water.

    LANDSCAPE PLANS showing the treatment of all unpaved areas not occupied by structures; size, height and location of significant existing and all proposed plants; scientific and common names of plants; street trees; method, type and extent of irrigation system; and location of all existing trees and tree clusters with identification of major trees by common name and spread.

    ILLUSTRATIVE PLAN of possible or projected development of any contiguous land in the same ownership may be required to understand the relationship of the plan to possible future development.

  6. Required Reports & Documents

    A legal description of the parcel and a statement of the area contained therein.

    A title report verifying the description and vestees (not to be required if use is to be conducted in existing structure and no structural changes are proposed).

    Photographs and other graphic material necessary or useful to understand the characteristics and impacts of the project.

    A Geological reconnaissance or soils report prepared by a California registered Civil Engineer or a Engineering Geologist, which shall include a detailed subsurface investigation of the proposed development site.

    General Development Schedule. Schedule will approximate date of commencement of construction, anticipated rate of development and completion date.

    here Performance Standards Review is required, a plan of the proposed construction or development including a description of the proposed machinery processes and products, and specifications for the mechanisms and techniques to be used in restricting the emission of dangerous and objectionable elements as defined in Section 10.108.

    For additional submittal information, please refer to Section 10.912.4 or Section 10.935.4of Sausalito Municipal Code Title 10 (Zoning)
Last updated: 6/18/2007 12:44:12 PM