The St. Clair Elks Lodge is seeking a variance so it can expand its current facility on North Street at Commercial Avenue.

Members appeared before the city’s planning and zoning board in July to discuss their planned  4,630-foot addition. The meeting centered on a request for clarification of front and side yard setback requirements for the lodge and how they pertain to the proposed addition to the west side of the existing structure that extends toward Commercial Avenue.

A variance is the process by which an applicant can request deviation from the set of rules a municipality applies to land use and land development — typically a zoning ordinance, building code or municipal code. The manner in which variances are employed can differ greatly depending on a municipality.

In other words, a variance is an exception to land use regulations.

Construction paperwork turned in by the Elks Lodge states that the primary entrance to the building after the addition is built would be on the north side of the building facing Casey’s General Store. The current doors that face Commercial Avenue to the west will be eliminated.

Tim Eagan, construction contractor for the Elks project, told the planning board that one of the corners at the west side of the addition, if allowed to be built as designed, would be about 7.5 feet from the Commercial Avenue right of way.

That short distance did not sit well with some of the planners.

Eagan said he had spoken with Judy Wagner, area engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation. Eagan stated that Wagner said she had no problems with that proximity of the addition to the roadway.

In the end, after a brief discussion, the question the planners had to wrestle with was the definition of a “front yard.”

“We’re looking for opinions on how you would view it,” Eagan said. “We would be changing the entrance so it wouldn’t be encroaching on any setbacks.”

City Building Inspector Jeremy Crowe said city code states there is a 25-foot front setback but a zero-foot side setback regulation.

A setback is a distance from a curb, property line, or structure within which building is prohibited.

Eagan said by changing the entrance to only the north side of the building, the new construction would be kept to the side where there would be no required setbacks.

The addition would tie into the existing building at the west end and would eliminate the current west-end entrance.

Setbacks form boundaries by establishing an exact distance from a fixed point, such as a property line or an adjacent structure, within which building is prohibited.

They can significantly affect a property owner’s ability to modify existing structures on the land.

Eagan said by changing the entrance to affecting just the one side, the Elks would be creating a side setback that would require no restrictions.

The planners decided that the Elks need to meet with the Board of Zoning Adjustments to discuss the variance before any further steps are taken. The Elks agreed.

Elks members said the expansion is needed because the current facility is becoming too small.