General Information

Sign variances are exceptions from regulations that are in the sign code and are made for a specific case. The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) has the authority to grant sign variances. The seven-member board, appointed by the Mayor with the consent of the City Council, is comprised of private citizens who live in Saint Paul. The BZA holds a public hearing before deciding on each case. The Citizen Participation District Council for the area is notified by mail at least 10 days prior to the public hearing as well as all property owners within 350 feet of the site. Anyone may testify at the hearing or send in written comments either in support or opposition to the request. A zoning staff report is given for each case, including a recommendation for approval or denial, a copy of which is sent to the applicant prior to the hearing. The Board of Zoning Appeals will conduct a public hearing within four weeks of the application's submission. By State Law 15.99, a decision is required on zoning-related requests within 60 days of submission or automatic approval will be given. An extension of 60 days may be given, provided the applicant is given written notice. The Board of Zoning Appeals holds public hearings every other Monday. The hearings start at 3:00 pm in Room 330 of City Hall / Courthouse. It is essential that the applicant or their representative attend the hearing.

Code Requirements

The Saint Paul Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) has the authority to grant variances from the strict applications of the Sign Code for unique signs or unusual conditions. The Board may not grant a variance which is not otherwise permitted in that zoning district under the provisions of the Sign Code. The Board of Zoning Appeals must make the following findings in order to grant a sign variance:

  • The sign request is due to unusual conditions pertaining to sign needs for a specific building or lot.
  • The sign would not create a hazard.
  • The sign would not violate Minnesota Statutes or rules and regulations developed pursuant hereto.
  • The sign would not be objectionable to adjacent property owners.
  • The sign would not adversely affect residential property through excessive glare and lighting.
  • The sign would be in keeping with the general character of the surrounding area.

In addition, the BZA must make the following findings required for all types of variances:

  • The variance is in harmony with the general purposes and intent of the zoning code.
  • The variance is consistent with the comprehensive plan.
  • The applicant has established that there are practical difficulties in complying with the provision, that the property owner proposes to use the property in a reasonable manner not permitted by the provision. Economic considerations alone do not constitute practical difficulties.
  • The plight of the landowner is due to circumstances unique to the property not created by the landowner.
  • The variance will not permit any use that is not allowed in the zoning district where the affected land is located.
  • The variance will not alter the essential character of the surrounding area.

In granting a variance, the board shall make written findings stating the grounds upon which the variance is justified.

Application Requirements

The following must be submitted:

  • A sign variance application form filed by the owner, contract purchaser, lease holder or sign contractor on behalf of the owner
  • A site plan showing the sign location and an elevation plan of the sign, drawn to scale
  • A filing fee of $547
  • Any additional information which would assist the Board in making their decision

Submit the above information and fees to: Zoning Administration Department of Safety and Inspections 375 Jackson, Suite 220 Saint Paul, MN 55101 If you have any questions, call 651-266-9008.

Public Hearing

The Board of Zoning Appeals meets every other week, usually on Mondays. All items to be placed on the agenda must be submitted at least three weeks prior to the hearing date. The public hearing is held at 3 pm in Room 330 of the City Hall/Courthouse building. The applicant or their representative is expected to attend the hearing. All property owners within 350 feet of the site, as well as the Citizen Participation District Council, are notified by mail at least 10 days prior to the public hearing. Anyone may submit a letter, petition, etc., or appear at the hearing to give verbal testimony about the case, either in support or in opposition. The zoning administration staff prepares a staff report for each case and makes a recommendation for approval or denial, a copy of which is sent to the applicant before the hearing.


Any affected party may appeal the decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals to the City Council within 10 days of the date of the decision. The reason for the appeal must be submitted in writing to: Zoning Administration, Department of Safety and Inspections, 375 Jackson Street, Suite 220, St. Paul, MN 55101, along with the required filing fee of $453.

Time Limit

A zoning variance is valid for two years unless the sign is constructed pursuant to a building permit. The Zoning Administrator may grant an extension not to exceed one additional year.

Administrative Review

The Board of Zoning Appeals also reviews any appeal of a decision of the Zoning Administrator dealing with the provisions of the Sign Code. The above procedure is followed. A letter must be submitted specifying the basis for the appeal; the filing fee is $547.

Sign Variance Fees & Inspections

 A zoning staff person will visit the site and take slides to be shown at the public hearing. If the sign variance is granted, a sign permit must be obtained before the sign is installed and an inspection is made as part of the permit for Business Signs. If a sign constructed under a sign variance fails to comply with any conditions of approval, the Board of Zoning Appeals may, after a public hearing, revoke the variance and require that the sign be removed.


Sign Variances $547.00

Checks should be made payable to the City of Saint Paul. When a Sign Variance application is submitted for a sign that has been built or started without the required city permits, a late fee will be assessed. The late fee is double the filing fee. Expiration/Renewal No decision of the Zoning or Planning Administrator, Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals or City Council approving a site plan, permit, variance, or other zoning approval shall be valid for a period longer than two years, unless a building permit is obtained within such period and the erection or alteration of a building is proceeding under the terms of the decision, or the use is established within such period by actual operation pursuant to the applicable conditions and requirements of the approval, unless the Zoning or Planning Administrator grants an extension not to exceed one year.



Last Edited: April 15, 2019