The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) consists of five members of the community appointed by the Town Board. It has three primary duties:
(1) is to hear appeals of decisions by the Town Zoning Officer,
(2) is to hear requests for special permits, and
(3) is to interpret the Zoning Ordinance when it’s meaning or application is not clear to the Zoning Officer.
All are powers laid out in the Town of Schroon Zoning Ordinance.
The appeal of a decision made by the Town Zoning Officer can be by either the applicant for a permit who has been denied one by the Zoning Officer or it can be by a neighbor who objects to a permit that has been issued.
Variances: With respect to appeals of decisions by the Zoning Officer, the ZBA only hears appeals that involve provisions of the Town of Schroon Zoning Ordinance. The Zoning Ordinance consists primarily of regulations related to use and area requirements. The Town is divided into different use zones. Each use zones has it’s own area requirements. The Zoning Ordinance lays out the permitted uses and the area requirements for each zone. So for example retail businesses are permitted in certain zones and not others. The area requirements include the minimum lot size, minimum building setbacks from the property line, maximum % of lot covered by buildings and width at the building line.
When a person applies for a zoning permit with a proposal that does not meet the use or area requirements in the Zoning Ordinance he will be denied a permit. He or she then has the option of appealing to the ZBA asking for a variance of the provisions in their case.
Most of the appeals the ZBA hears involve sideline setbacks. Less often they have requests for variances of the minimum lot size and for use variances.
In asking for a variance the applicant is essentially asking that the zoning law not apply in his particular situation. The Zoning Ordinance has standards which the ZBA must use in judging that request. The applicant must provide the facts which convince the board those standards have been met and the variance can be granted.
Special Permits: Projects involving a use listed in the Zoning Ordinance as permitted for the zone involved are issued a zoning permit as a matter of course by the Zoning Officer provided the area requirements are also met. However in several of the use zones there are a few additional uses allowed which require a special permit. This permit is issued by the ZBA. It is issued after a hearing if it is determined that the proposal meets the criteria laid out in the Zoning Ordinance. The ZBA can decide not to issue the permit if it feels the criteria have not been met. The most common application for special permits that we have is for mobile homes. Mobile homes are single wide manufactured homes. Recreational vehicles are not mobile homes.
Interpretation: According to the provisions of the Zoning Ordinance, “This ordinance shall be enforced by an administrative official charged with its enforcement. Such official shall not possess any discretionary authority and whenever there is any doubt as to the interpretation of this ordinance, such doubts shall be referred as a question to the Board of Appeals.” We have a few of these. For example someone may propose a project involving a use that is not specifically listed in the ordinance but is similar to a listed use. In such a case the Zoning Officer will refer the question to the ZBA and the ZBA can interpret the ordinance as including or excluding the proposed use.
Public Hearing: In order to arrive at a decision in any of the above instances the ZBA must first conduct a public hearing on the matter involved. A public hearing is an opportunity for the applicant to present the facts of the case and argue for a favorable decision. It also provides the opportunity for any neighbors who will be impacted by the decision of the ZBA to present any facts and arguments they feel are relevant to the decision. After discussing the facts presented the ZBA almost always makes it’s decision at the initial public hearing. It can however in complicated cases keep the record open for a period of time to give ample opportunity for anyone who has an interest to present whatever additional facts they think important. This also permits responses to issues raised in the initial public hearing.
Procedure: The first step is for an applicant to present his proposal to the Town Zoning Officer. If the Zoning Officer does not issue a permit for any of the reasons above, then the applicant if he wishes to proceed must file an application with the ZBA. This application is available at the Town Hall and requires a $15 filing fee. According to the Zoning Ordinance, “Every appeal or application shall refer to the specific provision of the ordinance involved, and shall exactly set forth the interpretation that is claimed, the use for which the special permit is sought, or the details of the variance requested, as the case may be.” The application lists additional facts that are required.
When the ZBA receives the application a date for the hearing is set. A Notice of Public hearing prepared by the ZBA is published in a paper of record announcing the subject of the public hearning and the date – usually about three weeks after the notice appears. The applicant must send copies of this notice to adjacent neighbors. According to the Zoning Ordinance this is all neighbors who are adjacent to any boundary of the property. In certain cases the Zoning Board will require neighbors who are not immediately adjacent, but who will impacted by the proposed project, to be notified. The addresses of the neighbors can be found using the Tax Maps and associated materials found in the Assessor’s office at the Town Hall. These copies must be sent by certified mail return receipt requested or some other method of substantial proof confirming that the neighbor was notified. The notices must be mailed at least 7 days before the hearing. And the neighbor must have received them at least 3 days before the hearing. The proof of notification must be presented to the ZBA at the public hearing. This is very important. The failure to notify neighbors who should be notified of the public hearing invalidates any decision the board makes.
As noted above the ZBA almost always makes it’s decision at the initial public hearing. Shortly thereafter the applicant will receive a formal notification of the ZBA’s decision. A copy is also sent to the Zoning Officer.