Many commercial investors and developers who are interested in the Cleveland area may suddenly find their project in danger of being derailed before it even gets off the ground.

For instance, a project may stall when the developer discovers that the prime location for their new enterprise is not zoned for the type of business they want to launch at the location.

It is never a good idea to try to defy the city authorities which enforce Cleveland’s zoning code, so an investor in this situation is left with at least two viable options.

First, the person can work with local officials to change the city’s zoning map. Doing so will take several months, as different layers of the city’s government have to sign off on the proposal. Moreover, the law affords the public a couple of opportunities to weigh in on the matter. There is no guarantee the city will ultimately agree to change the code.

For those who do not have that kind of time, another option is to seek a variance from the city. In the world of zoning and land use, a variance is one-time special permission for a builder to develop a property even though it is not in strict compliance with the code.

Getting a variance is not automatic, and the authorities will consider a number of factors when making a decision. For example, the more significant the exception, the harder it will be to get the city to agree to it.

As with changes in the code, members of the public have an opportunity to object to the variance request, and there is no guarantee that the city will grant it. The process takes about six weeks.