Zoning Adjustments, Variances, and Appeals

Projects that do not meet zoning requirements can revise the project to comply with the zoning code or may choose to pursue one of the following avenues:

  1. Request an administrative adjustment from staff (for a minor exception to the code),
  2. Request a zoning variance from the Board of Adjustment, or
  3. Appeal a zoning decision to the Board of Adjustment.

More detail on:

Administrative Adjustments

Administrative adjustments allow minor adjustments to the Denver Zoning Code when there is an unnecessary hardship or a need to comply with federal law. The adjustment is approved or denied by the zoning administrator, based on specific criteria outlined in Article 12 of the Denver Zoning Code.

Request an administrative adjustment through your assigned project reviewer. Your reviewer will advise you on what to submit, which typically includes an application, a narrative detailing the basis for the hardship, and additional documentation proving the hardship. An administrative review fee will apply. Most administrative adjustment decisions are made within three weeks of submitting a complete and final application.

Variances

A variance may be appropriate when a zoning permit is denied and there is an unnecessary hardship preventing the project from being able to comply with the zoning code.

All variance requests must meet the review criteria and definitions in Article 12 of the Denver Zoning Code.

Variance requests are decided by an independent Zoning Board of Adjustment, which holds a public hearing at which public comments and testimony are heard and considered.

Requesting a Variance

If your project reviewer has denied your project based on a zoning violation, you may inform the reviewer of your decision to request a variance. Your reviewer will prepare an “informal denial” form for you to submit to the Board of Adjustment. Most variance requests are submitted only after zoning staff have reviewed the entire project, so that all zoning violations are identified and you have an opportunity to revise your project to comply with as many standards as possible before requesting a variance.

Variance requests related to construction must submit two copies of a scaled site plan, floor plan, and elevation drawings to the Board. The Board will not accept an incomplete submittal for requesting a public hearing date.


I haven't applied for a zoning permit yet but I know I will need a variance.

All applicants must start by submitting a zoning application and project plans so zoning staff can review the entire project, even if you know your project will not meet zoning standards.

  • Why? Decisions of the Board of Adjustment apply only to the plans submitted. Reviewers must complete a full review before this point to identify which zoning standards are/are not met.

If you believe your project will meet the criteria for a variance, include a narrative on the zoning plans submitted for review that describes all items that do not conform to the zoning code. The submittal should include a brief explanation identifying the unnecessary hardship in complying with the strict letter of the zoning code, including the neighborhood context if appropriate.


Zoning decisions are not a building permit.

Zoning approval does not mean the project meets building codes. A separate building code review will still be required before construction can begin. Please take building codes into account when designing plans, even for a zoning-only review, as changes in the future to meet building or other requirements may void any zoning variance or appeal granted.

Appeals

If you believe that zoning staff erred in interpreting or applying the zoning code’s standards, you may appeal the decision to the Board of Adjustment. Actions of the zoning administrator, zoning permitting staff, or zoning inspectors may be appealed to the Board. Examples of final staff actions that may be appealed include issuing or denying a zoning permit; issuing an enforcement cease and desist order; or issuing a written code interpretation or use determination. Appeals must be submitted within 15 days of the zoning decision.

The Board will consider the appeal only after a noticed public hearing and opportunity for public comment and testimony. All final actions and decisions of zoning staff are presumed correct unless the appellant can present substantial evidence to overcome the presumption. The Board of Adjustment may grant an appeal only if the Board finds staff took final action based on an error in applying or interpreting the zoning code.