Whoever said that “you can’t fight city hall” probably never sought a fence variance. This means that your chances of success are good – as long as you pose no threat to the public good and present a reasonable case. People seek variances -- or “official permission to bypass regulations…and make nonconforming use of zoned property” -- because their vision of a fence differs in height, scale or structure from the guidelines established by the zoning board of a local municipality. By writing an effective fence variance request, you stand an excellent chance of persuading the zoning board to see a new vision through your set of lenses.
Do wonders for your “case” by talking with your neighbors about your desire for a fence variance before you sit down to write the request. Whether they are homeowners or business people, your neighbors should be aware of your intentions and you should ask if they would lodge any objections. If not, ask them to sign a petition in support of your variance, which you will include with your variance request.
Choose a readable font for your letter, such as Arial or Tahoma. Establish 1-inch margins on the top, bottom and sides and make the letter flush-left (with no indents). Single-space between lines and double-space between paragraphs.
Ascertain the official address of your city hall for the inside address. Write “Zoning Board of Appeals” on the first line of the inside address information. Double-space.
Write the salutation, followed by a colon (not a comma): “Dear Members of the Zoning Board of Appeals:” You don't need to list all the members by name as your letter will be copied and disseminated to all members before the public hearing on your variance request. Double-space.
Devote the first paragraph to the purpose of your letter. Be polite, direct and specific: “I am writing to seek a fence variance for my single-family home at (provide the address and the town.) Current zoning rules say that fences must be no more than 4 feet tall; I respectfully request to install a fence that is 5 feet tall.”
Devote the rest of the letter – two and no more than four paragraphs – to explaining why you want the variance. State your position clearly and positively while emphasizing the benefits of installing a taller fence than zoning codes allow. Strive for a fair-minded and logical tone, and by all means: do not show defensiveness or adopt an air of arrogance or disdain for the current zoning rules.
Assume the role of diplomat by pointing out that you have taken the time to speak with your neighbors about your fence variance request. Make reference to the supportive petition you will include with the letter, if applicable. This one step alone could spell success for your request; after all, you are demonstrating that you are a thoughtful and considerate neighbor who is interesting in “keeping the peace.” Also, by soliciting your neighbors’ opinions, you may very well be saving the zoning board a step in their own research process.
Devote the last paragraph to an upbeat call to action. Be confident, but don’t be presumptuous: “I hope you agree that my request would produce an aesthetically proper addition if not an enhancement to my neighborhood. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at (include your phone number). Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this request.”
Choose an appropriate closing, which range from formal to less formal: “Respectfully yours,” “Yours very truly,” “Yours truly,” “Sincerely yours,” “Sincerely” and “Yours sincerely.”
Type your name. Sign your name above your typed name.
Read your letter aloud, then proofread and edit it.
- “The New St. Martin’s Handbook”; Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors; 1999.
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