Understanding the Zoning Hearing Board and Zoning Hearing Basics

Introduction. A zoning hearing board is appointed by the governing body of a municipality to decide questions and disputes (called appeals) involving the municipality’s zoning ordinance. Very simply, a zoning ordinance dictates how real estate may be used along with the size, use, location and sometimes appearance, of its structures.

The Zoning Appeal Process . When a property owner or another party with a legal interest in a property such as a tenant, wants to build something on or use the property in a manner which is not permitted by the zoning ordinance, he may be denied a permit by the municipality. He may then file an appeal (also called an application) with the zoning hearing board seeking relief from the municipality’s zoning ordinance determination. There is an application form to be completed which is then filed along with the necessary filing fee.

The Zoning Hearing. A zoning hearing board conducts a hearing in order to determine if it should uphold or overrule the municipality’s determination. A applicant must present evidence at the zoning hearing to support his request. The applicant has the legal burden to present evidence strong enough to justify his request for zoning relief. This is referred to as meeting his burden of proof. The facts which the evidence must prove depend upon the type of zoning relief requested. The three most common forms of zoning relief sought are interpretations, special exceptions and variances. The specific requirements for each of those will be covered in separate articles. The municipality may also present evidence in support of its determination. Other property owners may wish to present evidence either in favor of or in opposition to the zoning appeal. If the zoning hearing board determines a property owner is impacted by the zoning relief requested in a more substantial way than other property owners in general, the zoning hearing board may permit that property owner to become a party to the case and present evidence. Once all the evidence is presented the board will deliberate and make its decision which must be in writing and issued within 45 days after the conclusion of the hearing.

Practical Tips.

  • Completing the zoning appeal form properly and with as much helpful information as possible is important. This is the first thing the zoning hearing board will learn about the applicant’s case.
  • Proper preparation by the applicant for the zoning hearing very is often the difference between being successful or not. Too often an applicant appears at the zoning hearing having no idea what to present let alone what proof is needed.
  • Neighboring property owners are given written notice of the zoning hearing. They may find it alarming that a neighbor wants to use or build on his property in violation of the zoning ordinance. In most cases, the applicant will help his case by contacting the neighbors, informing them about his intentions and answering any questions they may have. Many times this will eliminate their concerns. Negative testimony or emotional pleas for protection to the zoning hearing board may diminish the applicant’s chance for success. If it is clear that a neighbor will appear at the hearing in opposition, knowing this will help the applicant prepare.
  • The applicant needs to know what the law requires him to prove to justify the zoning hearing board granting the relief he is requesting.
  • The applicant needs to gather his evidence and prepare witnesses, if any, for giving their testimony. Witnesses should know what questions they will be asked and certainly the applicant should know what a witness’s testimony will be.

For a consultation with one of our knowledgeable and experienced zoning and land use lawyers call 610-323-7464.

Kurt Holloway

About the author
Kurt Holloway

R. Kurtz “Kurt" Holloway was admitted to practice in 1977 in Pennsylvania and later in the Eastern District Federal Court of Pennsylvania. Mr. Holloway’s areas of concentration are Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Elder and Disability Planning, Real Estate Law, Zoning and Land Development, Business Law and Municipal Law.

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