Arizona Supreme Court Clarifies Area Variance Standard; Property Owners May Obtain an Area Variance When Special Circumstances Existed at Purchase

October 19, 2017
Nick Wood, Adam Lang, Noel Griemsmann, & Brianna Long – Snell & Wilmer Real Estate Litigation Blog

In Pawn 1st v. City of Phoenix, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected a Court of Appeals rule that would have unduly restrained alienation of property in Arizona. The Court of Appeals found that the City of Phoenix Board of Adjustment acted beyond its authority when it granted an area variance to a pawn shop where the special circumstances causing a need for the variance existed before the pawn shop purchased the property. Under Arizona law, boards of adjustment cannot grant an area variance where the special circumstances requiring the variance are self-imposed. The Court of Appeals adopted a rule that knowledge of special circumstances at the time of purchase made the special circumstances self-imposed, foreclosing the purchaser’s ability to obtain a variance. This rule would have severely restricted property purchasers’ ability to obtain area variances in Arizona and by extension likely strained property transactions.

The underlying case involved a pawn shop that was proposed in southeast Phoenix. After the property purchaser obtained approval for a required use permit (for a pawn shop) and a variance (for a 500 foot residential setback) from the City of Phoenix Board of Adjustment, a competing pawn shop filed a special action arguing that the variance was a use variance, not an area variance, beyond the board of adjustment’s authority.

Reprinted courtesy of Snell & Wilmer attorneys Nick Wood, Adam Lang, Noel Griemsmann and Brianna Long
Mr. Wood may be contacted at
Mr. Lang may be contacted at
Mr. Noel may be contacted at
Ms. Brianna may be contacted at


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