Should communities pay zoning board of appeals members?

Zoning board of appeals members are volunteers in the communities where they serve. Many do not seek any type of financial compensation and serve out of a civic duty.

Local units of government use volunteers in a variety of ways. In planning, they can serve on advisory planning boards, the planning commission, the zoning board of appeals, and any special task force created to address a specific issue. Most serve out of civic pride and responsibility for their respective communities. However, all boards and commissions are not created equal.

The zoning board of appeals (ZBA) has very specific functions. Article 6, Section 603 of the 2006 Zoning Enabling act states that the ZBA “shall hear and decide questions that arise in the administration of the zoning ordinance, including the interpretation of the zoning maps, and may adopt rules to govern its procedures sitting as a zoning board of appeals.”   

The act goes on to state that the ZBA shall “hear and decide appeals from and review any administrative order, requirement, decision, or determination made by an administrative official or body charged with enforcement of a zoning ordinance adopted under this act.”

Therefore, their ability to impact land use is very significant. Appeals of ZBA decisions are addressed though the circuit court of the county where the community is located.   A ZBA member that is well-versed in the zoning code can prove to be an invaluable asset for a local unit of government.    

All of the communities that I have worked with as a member of Michigan State University Extension as a professional planner do not pay their ZBA members. One community did provide a $20 stipend to encourage attendance but has since discontinued the policy.  The Zoning Enabling Act says the ZBA members may be paid a reasonable per diem and reimbursed for expenses “actually incurred.”

Zoning Board of Appeals members provide a valuable service to their community. Similar to planning commissions, they make decisions that sometimes result in legal actions in their communities. One could argue that paying such volunteers may attract more knowledgeable members. However, the Zoning Enabling Act does not address the issue of direct payment beyond reimbursements and per diems.  In the meantime, local communities should focus on creating a mutually beneficial relationship for such volunteers by providing training and opportunities for volunteers to expand their knowledge. 

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