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"Mere inconvenience" does not meet "practical difficulties" test for non-use var

The Missouri Supreme Court, in Antioch Community Church v. BZA of the City of Kansas City, Missouri, SC96215 (Mo. Apr. 3, 2018), upheld a Board of Zoning Adjustment’s decision to deny a variance to a church for a digital sign. The church wanted to update its monument sign to a digital display sign, which was prohibited under the City’s zoning code. The church applied for a variance, alleging that it met the “practical difficulties” standard to be entitled to a variance because (1) the lack of a digital display sign made it harder to effectively convey the church’s messages, (2) church members tasked with updating the monument sign letters found it difficult to do so, and (3) the church had already invested $11,000 updating the sign to a digital display. The BZA denied the variance, concluding that such reasons did not amount to “practical difficulties.” On appeal, the Missouri Supreme Court reiterated the principle that the practical difficulties standard for a non-use variance requires one to show that the property cannot be used for the desired permitted use without coming into conflict with certain zoning code restrictions. Recognizing that the practical difficulties test is only “slightly less rigorous” than the unnecessary hardship test (applied in considering “use variances”), the Court agreed with the BZA that the church could not meet the practical difficulties test. The Court explained that variances are not intended to prevent against “mere inconvenience,” which was essentially the sole basis for the church’s variance request.

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