What is a Zoning Board of Appeals? (Overview, Roles, and Responsibilities)

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • August 22, 2023
people in an planning commission meeting, reading a document together

Have you ever wondered who decides what can be built in your neighborhood, or how land-use regulations are enforced? 

Well, that job goes to the unsung heroes of urban planning: the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). As a vital part of the local government, this board plays a pivotal role in shaping our community and ensuring buildings and construction align with established zoning laws.

Innovative software solutions have emerged to enhance the effectiveness of ZBAs and ensure local government compliance. These solutions empower board members with efficient tools for managing tasks, streamlining processes, and fostering better decision-making. 

Read on to learn about the functions and responsibilities of a ZBA, and discover how technology streamlines government meetings and administration.

What Is a Zoning Board of Appeals?

A Zoning Board of Appeals is a standing committee of appointed members with expertise in zoning ordinances and land-use regulations. The board’s primary purpose is to provide a fair and impartial forum for property owners and developers to challenge decisions made by local zoning officials. They carefully review appeals and grant variances or exceptions to zoning regulations on a case-by-case basis.

The ZBA safeguards against arbitrary decisions, ensuring that zoning regulations are applied consistently and fairly. By striking a balance between the interests of individual property owners and the community’s overall welfare, these boards help to shape the character and development of neighborhoods.

Without the ZBA’s oversight, land use and development decisions often lack transparency and community input. This can result in haphazard development, overcrowding, reduced property values, and diminished quality of life for residents.

Zoning Board of Appeals Responsibilities

A ZBA collectively ensures the fair application of zoning laws while balancing the interests of property owners and the broader community. 

ZBA duties include:

1. Interpret Zoning Regulations

Zoning regulations dictate how land within a jurisdiction can be used, such as designating areas for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes. However, these regulations can sometimes be complex or open to interpretation.

When confronted with unclear or disputed aspects of the zoning code, the Zoning Board of Appeals provides clarity. They analyze the language and intent of the regulations, taking into account the specific circumstances of each case. The board’s interpretation establishes guidelines for how the zoning code should be understood and applied consistently.

2. Grant Variances

A variance is a waiver or exception that allows a property owner to deviate from specific zoning requirements that would otherwise apply to their property. For example, if a property owner wishes to build a structure that exceeds the maximum height limit specified in the zoning regulations, they can request a variance from the ZBA. 

The board reviews such requests, considering factors like hardship, unique circumstances, and the impact on neighboring properties. Variances are typically granted if the board determines that strict adherence to the zoning regulations would cause undue hardship to the property owner while not substantially affecting the surrounding community.

3. Consider Appeals

Property owners and developers who disagree with decisions made by local zoning officials can appeal to the ZBA. These appeals may involve issues such as the denial of building permits, interpretations of zoning regulations, or the imposition of penalties for non-compliance.

The board acts as an impartial body, reviewing the facts and arguments presented by the appellant and the local zoning authority. They carefully consider the relevant regulations, the case’s specific circumstances, and any public comments or concerns. Based on this thorough examination, the board either upholds or overturns the previous ruling.

4. Permit Exceptions and Special Permits

In addition to variances, a ZBA can grant exceptions and special permits. Exceptions allow property owners to deviate from specific zoning provisions for limited and specified purposes. For instance, a property owner may seek an exception to operate a small-scale, home-based business in an area primarily designated for residential use. 

On the other hand, special permits grant permission for specific uses or developments that are not allowed within a particular zoning district. These permits are typically subject to additional conditions or requirements to ensure compatibility with the surrounding area. The board carefully reviews applications for exceptions and special permits, weighing the potential impacts on the neighborhood and the overall compliance with the zoning objectives.

5. Maintain a Record of Decisions

A ZBA is responsible for keeping a comprehensive record of its decisions. This includes recording the details of each case, the rationale behind the decisions made, and any conditions or requirements imposed on variances or special permits.

Maintaining this record is crucial for ensuring transparency and accountability in the zoning process. These records allow for future reference and provide a valuable resource for property owners, developers, and the public. A record of decisions can also assist in establishing precedent and guiding future interpretations and decisions.

eScribe Powers Effective Zoning Boards

Technology empowers effective zoning boards by streamlining data collection, analysis, and decision-making processes, ensuring efficient management of land use regulations, and facilitating transparent communication with stakeholders. 

eScribe offers a comprehensive meeting management software solution designed for zoning board meetings, planning commission meetings, city council meetings, and more.  eScribe provides valuable features for ZBA members, including

  • Meeting Manager: Create, share, modify, and collaborate on meeting materials in real-time.  
  • Meeting Minutes: Take minutes directly within the platform and mark motions as the meeting progresses. 
  • Reporting and Workflows: Manage deadlines, track statuses, save time, and handle reports and approvals with ease.
  • Collaboration Tools: Give elected officials the freedom to work from anywhere by providing secure access for searching for and reviewing content, downloading meeting materials, and keeping track of comments, notes, and action items.

eScribe is the right software solution for city councils and other local government agencies. Don’t just take our word for it. Learn how the software streamlined processes for the City of Greensboro