The importance of your Zoning Board of Appeals

Maintaining a properly organized and functioning Zoning Board of Appeals is critical to ensure the integrity of the board’s decisions and to avoid potentially serious and costly legal issues.

For many rural communities, significant amounts of time can lapse without action from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). This idleness often is the result of a lack of need. It is not uncommon for rural Michigan communities to see new business brought before a local ZBA on an irregular basis, often with many years between requests. This time gap, however, can create significant legal problems for a community if regular attention is not being given to the ZBA.

The ZBA exists to make quasi-judicial zoning decisions. This means that they make decisions on appeal from an administrative decision. The ZBA is the only bodyauthorized to make zoning text and zoning map interpretation and grant variances and appeals. A properly functioning ZBA is critical because it serves as the last “stop” before heading into court and its findings and actions will be reviewed by the judge and have an effect on the final determination of your case. Unfortunately, many communities are often unprepared when a request for the ZBA comes in, and they find themselves scrambling to put together and swear-in their ZBA members in time for a hearing. This lack of preparation can cause undue delays and potentially lead to validity and due process issues.

To prevent these potentially serious and costly problems, your ZBA should meet at least once per year, regardless of whether there are any requests to the board. Additionally, the legislative body should review ZBA membership records annually and maintain a current, legally functioning ZBA by ensuring proper appointments and swearing-in as needed. This information should be recorded and maintained in an easily identifiable location in the event the need arises to access and verify the information.

ZBA requirements are established by statue in Article VI of the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act.Michigan State University Extension also provides a step-by-step guide for processing appeals and variance requests to the ZBA.

The information below is a brief summary that will help to guide a review of your ZBA.

ZBA composition:

  • ZBA members are appointed to three (3) year terms or same as term office for planning commission/legislative body members (ex officio)
  • Not less than three (3) members for populations less than or equal to 5,000
  • Not less than five (5) members for populations greater than 5,000
  • ZBA members shall be electors within the zoning jurisdiction of the local unit of government
  • For townships, one member of the ZBA must be a member of the planning commission
  • A member of the legislative body may be on the ZBA
  • The legislative body may be the ZBA ONLY in cities and villages (a township board may not be the ZBA)
  • Two (2) alternates are allowed (an alternate must stay with a case until its final, they act as a regular member when serving)

ZBA voting requirements:

  • The ZBA shall not conduct business unless a majority of members are present
  • When voting on appeals or nonuse (dimensional) variance, simple majority of ZBA membership needed
  • Use variance requires two-thirds (2/3) vote of ZBA membership

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