Variances: balancing development needs with zoning regulations

Edmonton’s variety of terrain – from flat prairies to the steep river valley – means that not every property in the city is the same. Accommodating the unique features of each property sometimes requires flexibility in certain land development regulations within the Zoning Bylaw.

When an exception to a Zoning Bylaw regulation is granted, it’s called a variance. Variances help balance development needs with zoning regulations to create vibrant communities and use land efficiently.

When considering a variance request, the City must ensure that the proposed development does not conflict with the stated intent of the zone.

The City will only approve variances in cases where:

  • following the rules would cause unnecessary hardship or practical difficulties that are not generally common to other properties in the same area, such as an irregular site shape or unique slope characteristics.
  • the proposed development will not interfere with the enjoyment or value of neighbouring properties or community amenities.

The City is restricted from varying maximum height, floor area ratio or density regulations.

When the City approves a development with a variance, notification letters are sent to nearby residents to inform them of the proposed development and provide information about how to appeal the variance to the Subdivision and Development and Appeal Board (SDAB). Property owners and builders are also encouraged to talk to neighbours about the proposed development using resources such as the City’s Good Neighbour Guide.

In 2015, 1,394 development permits were issued in mature and established neighbourhoods, 302 of which included variances.

MNO_Variance_ Infographic

The most common variance granted in the mature areas is an adjustment to the minimum rear setback, which regulates how far back from the rear property line a house must be placed.  Variances to the rear setback are often required when a lot is not large enough to accommodate the rear setback and front setback requirements and still have enough area to to build a house.  

With an influx of new development in mature and established neighbourhoods, the City is reviewing the varied regulations in these areas as part of the Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) review.

The MNO review is action 17 on Edmonton’s Infill Roadmap, the City’s two-year work plan for advancing infill in Edmonton. The intent of the review is to make infill in mature areas easier and better for communities, developers, and Administration through improved regulations. One of the ways the City hopes to achieve this goal is by reducing the need for variances during the permitting process, and improve and clarify the development approvals process for citizens and builders.

For more information on the MNO review and how to get involved, visit

This video and blog post is the third in our five-part Mature Neighbourhood Overlay (MNO) series. The series showcases the role zoning and the MNO play in shaping Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods.


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