Are you ready for your Board of Zoning Adjustments debut?

This is the second in a series of articles about the no less sexy, but often overlooked side of opening a new business: construction and its legal processes. Sexy because, if you work through each phase as it’s meant to function, you could win smooth passage and likely a more attractive, profitable business. At the very least, you’ll have the knowledge to play by the rules− and when you’re a startup, breaking them isn’t always something you can afford.

You swear an oath to tell the truth. You’re mic’d and interrogated. Previously sized up and under further scrutiny. You have five minutes to make your case.


Wait. By the way, whether stamped “approved” or “disapproved,” your bill is $1,900.

Okay, go.

Witness the Board of Zoning Adjustments meeting, which you will eventually attend for a zoning variance. This stage follows an appointment with your Area Commission. (This previous article is helpful if you’re unfamiliar.)

A variance is just the going vernacular for a minor change in zoning (like a used harpsichord dealer to I’m Baroque cash advancement). Each is a business, so it wouldn’t make for a whole-hog change in zoning, but rather you’ve got it a variance.

A good rule of thumb: Unless your plan is to replace a business with the very same business, you are in need of a zoning variance. If you’re unsure whether you need one, contact Building and Zoning Services at 614-645-6090.

But let’s preview.

Here you are. The hearing room. Basement. The fluorescently-lit underground lair of the Columbus City Building Department, oddly situated 5.8 miles northeast of all the downtown Columbus city buildings. Remarkably immemorable, one might call its environment an assault on one’s visual faculty.

The aura, in terms of design, is “I hope you never return.” So, in this regard, you and the building department have something in common.

Some entrepreneurs are present, maybe, but mostly a modest suburban sample of proposals, like (no sarcasm), “Can I lower my fence from three feet to two?” and “My garage doesn’t have enough people doors. Is it all right if I add one?”

This is the scene, but you’re preoccupied with the possibility that you and Columbus’s City Building Code cannot be legally wed. And you’ve really sprung for this one date with The Board.

Getting through the Board of Zoning Adjustments is about as ornate a process as it sounds. Which means no “Have a good days” or professional smiles. You’ve got the right idea if you possess a driver’s license.

What distinguishes The Board from the BMV is its almost eerily keen interest in what you’re interested in. You can expect a lot of questions. And, mercifully, you can count on exactly none of them to be confrontational.

It’s worth brief mention, too, that the hearing room is a serious misnomer because, of all things, their sound system is unintelligible. Think of high-volume AM radio in a long tunnel.

Your area commissioners, whom you should have dealt with and befriended by now, are of enormous help. The BZA is not obligated to carry out the area commission’s vote, but, because The Board is made up of elected officials and their purpose is to keep the neighbors happy, the area commission, which in a way represents the community, has unmatched clout.

compton-construction-logoThey can also be a precious resource as far as the application process. They are your educators just as much as they are sentinels to your small crop of building. Try them first for help with the BZA application process. Build a relationship, and you’ll probably have a more significant presence when you appear before The Board, too.

If you have the chutzpah to circumvent your area commission, you can go straight to The Board. But because the commission doesn’t charge and the BZA more than makes up for it (1,900), I don’t recommend the gamble.

For the foolhardy, here is the BZA application form.

Even more than the area commissions, time is your shining knight and most ruthless adversary when it comes to the BZA. The board meetings are once per month, so if your project is tabled, your loans get to blossom another thirty days while your little business begins to sag, your profitable vision a hazy abstraction.

To summarize: take care of the legal niceties before you hash out the rest and you’re on your way to dream-fulfillment. As you navigate the labyrinth that is the building department, it will become apparent that luck plays no part in finding your way.

If there were a metaphor and of all things, the Building Department deserves none your guiding waft of cheese to the maze is the Area Commission. It’s actually behind you.

To learn more about Compton Construction, visit the Compton Construction Facebook page.