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The Board of Variance Process and 4 Pillars Reasonings

jerrimae gutierrez

    Jul 1, 2022

    12 min


Some bylaws can be relaxed but they depend on certain reasons.


Homeowners/contractors who face challenges and hardship complying with the bylaws are recommended to appeal to the Board of Variance for its relaxation. The process happens once a month and the appeal made before the board can either be approved or denied. Check the flow chart below to be familiar with their process:

Source: Board of Variance Appeals

Note that, if the appeal is denied, the Board will not hear another appeal based on the same variance for the same property within one year in accordance with the Board of Variance Bylaw Section 14. In short, it is very important not to miss the opportunity to get approved, or else the month-long process could turn into a year or so. 

How to avoid this?

Aside from what we have mentioned earlier, the property must meet four conditions. And they should ultimately be part of your reasoning. Let’s discuss each one in the next section. 

4 pillars of reasoning: 

1. The property in question cannot yield a reasonable return unless a variance is granted

In our Watling St. project, the need to go beyond the measurement set for the front yard and vision clearance intersection set by the City of Burnaby is vital because it may disrupt the whole house plan, may take longer than expected, and ruined the supply chain we have prepared. Therefore for us to prevent these issues, the relaxation of some zoning bylaws was requested.

2. The need for a variance is due to the unique circumstances of the property and not to the general conditions in the neighborhood

The exact address of our site in Watling is one of the four unique properties in Burnaby. They are unique as they are reverse pie-shaped lots with forced back lane driveway access. Where the front of the home is wide, the rear side of the lot is narrow and lane-facing. Most pie shape lots are in cul de sacs, where they have the wide side of the lot like the rear yard and you would have a front driveway on the narrow front section. The other 3 properties are 4761 Watling Street, 4738 Victory Street, and 4758 Victory Street.  

What makes it one of two unique properties is that those two homes on Victory Street, have an at-grade section that is currently filled with gravel where people can park cars, while the two on Watling Street, have a landscaped ditch that prevents cars from parking and extends the distance from the road with a wall of foliage. This ditch was a city of Burnaby initiative to help reduce Stormwater Runoff. This distance is 13 feet. So we have a perceived 34 feet distance from the street to the front of the proposed home for my home if a vehicle was parked there. Those homes on Victory Street, such as 4738 Victory Street, would appear approximately 26 feet before seeing a vehicle. What is being asked of us is to put our home 37.58 feet away from these parked vehicles (12 ft more than similar reverse pie-shaped lots). 

For the typical pie-shaped lots in cul de sacs, having the 24.61ft is simply done. Homeowners just have to place a driveway/garage in the front. It is very practical and easy to follow. However, with this home blocked by that vegetated/treed storm water ditch, and a rear lane requiring the vehicle to park in the rear, building a driveway/garage is quite complicated. Thus making the intentions of the bylaw make us feel a bit impractical because it pushes the home towards the back and at the same time, the garage is restricted due to the rear distance vision sight line requirement.

Also, compared to the block of homes on Watling, 24.6 feet front setback would put us awkwardly in the furthest back position of all the homes on the street. 

3. The granting of a variance will not alter the essential character of the locality

The vision clearance of all the other pie-shaped lots on this block all utilizes 0 ft of clearance since they all have 6 ft or greater fencing or vegetation. The board may think that 0 ft of clearance might be unacceptable, but in reality, the vision on the adjacent side is quite clear due to the fact, that this corner isn’t a typical 90-degree corner. The shape of both lane way entrances, is a slow curve on a 30 km/hr speed zone, with massive speed bumps. That from the edge, allows you to see 244 ft of vehicular activity (the entire distance of the park to the other laneway entrance) from your front perspective. In contrast, a 90-degree laneway limits your vision. I have included images of both laneway entrances for referencing all with the current situation of 0 ft clearance. We are planning to do 12.33 ft which will significantly increase vision clearance. These changes will not alter the essential character of the locality and will not impact the neighborhood negatively. Instead, they could contribute positively since it optimizes the capacity of the residents to avoid accidents and unnecessary hustles.


4. The hardship is not the result of action taken by the applicant or a prior owner

The home was originally built in the 70s and since it was bought no significant changes were made to alter the property. Thus all the hardships were not caused by any action taken by the current or previous owners. 

With the 4 pillars of reasonings, as well as the points and actions mentioned in our previous blogs, our appeal has been approved and the Burnaby permit was finally granted to us. 

The video below is the actual process that our team underwent with the Board of Variance regarding our appeal:

NOTE: Before the hearing took place,  one of the board members even walked around the property one evening to inspect our site in Watling. (Seems like we passed the inspection, 😄)

Getting a permit may sometimes be challenging and complicated but there’s always a way. We hope that you were able to take advantage of this information and apply the methods which you find applicable to your situation once you encounter problems in getting your Burnaby permit.

This article was last updated on Nov 29, 2023