An appointment to a Zoning Hearing Board is an important yet complex responsibility which requires a thorough understanding of functions relating to the application and administration of the zoning ordinance.
The zoning hearing board is a quasi-judicial body that renders decisions on specific types of land use appeals and applications. Members of the zoning hearing board are appointed by the governing body. Although the zoning hearing board functions like a court, formal court procedures are not strictly required.
The primary purpose of the zoning hearing board is to help assure fair and equitable application and administration of the zoning ordinance. The board hears appeals from the zoning officer’s determinations and grants relief from the literal enforcement of the zoning ordinance in certain hardship situations by means of a variance. The zoning hearing board also hears applications for special use and challenges to the substantive validity of ordinances. The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) provides a specific set of rules that must be followed for applications submitted to the zoning hearing board.
The zoning hearing board has no legislative power; neither does the board have enforcement powers. The zoning hearing board schedules hearings on applications and appeals that come before it, takes evidence, and issues written decisions with findings of fact and conclusions of law. A board must limit its scope of activities to those permitted by the MPC and by the local zoning ordinance.
While the zoning hearing board is not responsible for the contents of the zoning ordinance, it plays a vital role in the overall effectiveness of the zoning ordinance. The zoning hearing board may detect weaknesses in the zoning ordinance, perhaps as a result of frequent and similar variance requests. When a flaw, weakness, or lack of clarity is noticed, it should be communicated to the zoning officer and planning commission for their consideration to amend the zoning ordinance accordingly.
Local officials and appointees should not take an appointment to the zoning hearing board lightly. It is an extremely responsible and demanding position, one that will play an important role in the growth and development of the community.