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Thread: Board of zoning appeals staff recommendations

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Board of zoning appeals staff recommendations

    How many of you prepare a staff recommendation to your Board of Zoning Appeals? We prepare the general property information but in the past do not give a staff recommendation. I feel it appropriate to NOT give a recommendation since the applicants are infront of the BZA to break our rules in the first part so our recommendation should be no every time. If you do prepare staff recommendations how do you handle this perceived conflict of interests?
    @GigCityPlanner

  2. #2
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    At my current job, staff does not prepare recommendations. (Edit: The Planning Staff does not staff the ZBA here, the Building Department and Zoning Officer, who is the Chief Building Inspector, staffs our ZBA)

    In my previous gig, I was expected to make a full recommendation on all the points of law/criteria for variances and special exceptions. Never felt comfortable doing it, but was directed to do so my the ZBA chair and the Planning Director.

    I personally believe that staff for ZBA hearings should only serve to answer questions relative to the purpose of the regulations from which relief is being sought and to offer clarifications on procedures....other than that, leave the quasi-judicial work to the board themselves.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 21 Nov 2007 at 2:48 PM.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    IMO Staff should state in writing that all submission requirements (everything required for approval) (all informational requirements) have been met.

    The item should not be presented unless and until all required information has been submitted and deemed adequate for a decision to be made.

    If the applicant insists on going forward anyway, staff should note which element is lacking at their presentation of the item.

    Staff should be prepared to make a recommendation - IF asked.

    Our staff does not make a recommendation unless asked.

  4. #4
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    I have a different take on this.
    In my opinion, it's the job of the professional planner to analyze a comp plan amendment, zone change, development proposal, etc. for consistency with the comp plan and zoning ordinance and provide a recommendation to the decision makers. I've never worked anywhere where I didn't make recommendations.
    RJ is the KING of . The One

  5. #5
    Cyburbian MD Planner's avatar
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    This is also why in my opinion, zoning and planning should be separate, at least in the sense that the Zoning Administrator does not give, is not asked for, recommendations. Their job is to enforce that ordinance as written, so by definition they would be opposed to the request. It's up to the planners, just like Richmond Jake said, to make a recommendation with respect to consistency and intent.
    He's a planner, he's a dreamer, he's a sordid little schemer,
    Seems to think that money grows on trees . . .

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    I'm with RJ. Our ZBA's, PC's, BoA's, BoR's, etc. are appointed by our elected folk and are not professionals - at least not like us. Findings have to be made and motions crafted so that any possible challenges and questions are minimized. We all are the best equipped to do all that. I've never worked anywhere that wasn't expected.

  7. #7
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    I have a different take on this.
    In my opinion, it's the job of the professional planner to analyze a comp plan amendment, zone change, development proposal, etc. for consistency with the comp plan and zoning ordinance and provide a recommendation to the decision makers. I've never worked anywhere where I didn't make recommendations.
    But if it is a simple side yard setback variance for a house addition, how does the comp plan, etc. come into play?

    Yes, we give recommendations on development plan reviews at the Plan Commission, but for the Zoning Board of Appeals we do not give any recommendations. The hardship criteria are quite explicit (if a little vague), and the members of the ZBA are more than equipped to decide the validity of a proposed hardship (at least where I am).

    And for most, if not all, zoning variance requests, our recommendations would be denial, since seldom does a petitioner ever have a "true" hardship.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  8. #8
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    And for most, if not all, zoning variance requests, our recommendations would be denial, since seldom does a petitioner ever have a "true" hardship.
    Exactly. That was the position I was in in my old job. 98% of my recommendations were for denial of variances. It got pretty repetitive, and the ZBA ignored the recommendations 80% of the time anyway.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  9. #9
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    But if it is a simple side yard setback variance for a house addition, how does the comp plan, etc. come into play?

    Yes, we give recommendations on development plan reviews at the Plan Commission, but for the Zoning Board of Appeals we do not give any recommendations. The hardship criteria are quite explicit (if a little vague), and the members of the ZBA are more than equipped to decide the validity of a proposed hardship (at least where I am).

    And for most, if not all, zoning variance requests, our recommendations would be denial, since seldom does a petitioner ever have a "true" hardship.
    Every land use entitlement must be consistent with the comp plan. This includes zone changes, CUPs, variances, etc.

    From our code:
    The variance shall not authorize changes to the Comprehensive Plan-Future Land Use Map, the Official Zoning Map, or the densities and allowable uses associated therewith.
    How do you write the required findings in a report for an entitlement thatís expected to support a final decision? Do you prepare two sets of findings, one for approval and another for denial, and tell the decision makers: take your pick?
    RJ is the KING of . The One

  10. #10
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    In our code, a variance may be granted if there is a "demonstrated hardship"- and that is defined in the code. This allows code flexibility and helps people in situations where, for example, topographyically, the setback can't be met on a particular lot. The staff generates a report to show whether we think the hardship standard has been met.
    Do you want to pet my monkey?

  11. #11
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    How do you write the required findings in a report for an entitlement thatís expected to support a final decision? Do you prepare two sets of findings, one for approval and another for denial, and tell the decision makers: take your pick?
    Perhaps your question is really best answered by saying that there must be substantive differences between FL and IL. In my view, granting a variance from the sideyard requirement for a specific addition does not grant an entitlement beyond that specific addition. If they want to enlarge the addition in the future and further encroach - another variance is required.

    Our comp plan may not be as immobile or carry as much weight as your's, but I do not view a simple bulk standard variance as being inconsistent with the Comp Plan intent. Use variances - sure, but they go to the Plan Commission as subject to a more legislative review, and opposed to the judicial review of a Zoning Board of Appeals.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RichmondJake View post
    I've never worked anywhere where I didn't make recommendations.
    Neither have I. What would they be paying be for then?

  13. #13
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I make recommendations too - except when the appeal is from a Planning Board decision and then it basically stinks for me

  14. #14
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Neither have I. What would they be paying me for then?
    I totally agree. A chimp can be trained to perform the rest.
    RJ is the KING of . The One

  15. #15
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    When it is an appeal of a staff decision, I prepare a report as usual, making clear how our decision was reached (and, in the analysis, why the applicable provision is in the code). Under the recommendation section of the report, I always state: "as this is an appeal of a staff decision, staff has no recommendation on this case." The staff opinion is obvious from the rest of the report--even for my BZA.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Thank you all for your input. I've considered at the least outlining the four South Carolina Criteria for seeking a variance from the BZA which are:

    (a) Extraordinary and exceptional conditions pertaining to the particular piece of property in question because of its size, shape or topography; and

    (b) The application of the Ordinance on this particular piece of property would create unnecessary hardship; and

    (c) Such conditions are peculiar to that particular piece of property; and

    (d) Relief, if granted, would not cause substantial detriment to the public good or impair the purpose or intent of the Ordinance or the Comprehensive Plan, provided however, that no variance may be granted for a use of land or building or structure that is prohibited in a given district.

    By outlining what the staff feels but without giving an actual approval, denial, or approval with changes we may make the board's job easier and more educated.

    If any of you have a staff report example you could PM me please send it along, if you need my email PM me as well. Thanks again!
    @GigCityPlanner

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    The original question has evolved a little.

    I would recommend two more considerations in your respect to your last post, Tide.

    1. That the conditions necessitating a Variance were not caused by the Applicant. (ie The developer designed the subdivision with a lot too small for him to build on.)

    2. That granting a Variance would not bestow on the applicant an advantage not enjoyed by other applicants or lots with similar conditions.

    Also, IMO the ordinance should require the applicant to show what mitigating provison he is willing to give the city in granting such Variance. (ie, If he gets a reduction on one Side Yard, he should be prepared to increase the other Side Yard - or increase in screening or whatever.)

    We also have applicants trying to get a row of lots approved by the same Variance - this is contrary to the concept of having conditions unique to a particular parcel.

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