The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) functions as a quasi-judicial branch of the
zoning administration, even though it is technically an administrative body. The
board of zoning appeals is permitted to exercise four functions as identified in
the Ohio Revised Code and Chapter 21 of the Clearcreek Township Zoning
Resolution: Appeals, Variances, Conditional Uses, and Non-Conformance Hearings.
ACTION ON APPEALS
Any applicant has the right to appeal a decision of the zoning inspector. A
zoning resolution is complicated and often technical. A property owner and the
zoning inspector may read the same requirement of the zoning resolution and come
to different conclusions on the way it applies to a particular piece of
property. The zoning inspector can only approve a zoning permit if the
application conforms to all the requirements of the zoning resolution, as he
understands them. However, any applicant has the right to appeal his decision.
In many rural areas, lots often run to the center of township, county and state
roads. An applicant, who owns a 20,000 square foot lot in a residential
district, applies for a zoning permit to build a house. The lot conforms to all
the requirements of the zoning resolution; however, a question arises as to the
front yard setback requirement. The front yard requirement for the district
specifies that the house must be located no closer than 50 feet from the front
lot line. This is where the problem arises. What is the front lot line? In this
case the front lot line is also the centerline of the road. It seems logical
that the house should be set back from the right-of-way line and not the center
line, although the applicant desires to set back 50 feet from the center line.
The zoning inspector maintains that the 50 foot setback must be measured from
the road right-of-way line. Such a difference in understanding the zoning
resolution should be referred to the board of zoning appeals for an
interpretation. This type of a problem should not arise because key terms like
"front yard setback" should be adequately defined to avoid such problems.
It should also be pointed out that appeals can also be taken by others than
those simply applying for permits. For example, a neighbor may appeal the
decision of the zoning inspector, claiming that the inspector issued a permit
for a use not permitted by the zoning resolution, or that the approved permit
did not conform with all the zoning requirements.
ACTION ON REQUEST FOR VARIANCES
A variance is a type of appeal, since zoning procedures require that the
applicant must first go to the zoning inspector with an application for a zoning
permit. When an inspector disapproves an application, the applicant may then
file a request with the board of zoning appeals for a variance from the strict
application of the zoning resolution as it applies to his property. Courts have
often dismissed appeals from a board of zoning appeals decision where an
application has not been first rejected by the inspector. The board of zoning
appeals has no authority to rule on variances except on an appeal basis.
The Ohio Revised Code states the Board of
Zoning Appeals can authorize, upon appeal, in specific cases, such variance from
the terms of the zoning resolution as will not be contrary to the public
interest, where, owing to special conditions, a literal enforcement of the
resolution will result in unnecessary hardship, and so that the spirit of the
resolution shall be observed and substantial justice done.
A property owner seeking a variance shall be
judged by an unnecessary hardship standards in the use of his property to
include, but are not limited to:
ACTION ON CONDITIONAL USES
The hardship must remove all profitable
use from the land. It is not a sufficient hardship if the land would be more
valuable with the variance, or less valuable withouth the variance. Instead,
there must be evidence that the property is unsuitable to any of the permitted
uses as zoned.
The hardship must result from circumstances affecting a particular and
unique piece of land, and not from a general condition throughout the
A variance must not alter the essential character of a neighborhood.
It is not enough to show that the effects of a variance would be
harmless. Real, unnecessary hardship must still be established by the applicant.
Any hardship must result from the requirements of the zoning
resolution and not from the applicant’s own actions.
Whether the property owner purchased or acquired the property with the knowledge of the zoning restriction.
A variance must not be contrary to the public interest, even if a
hardship can be established.
Other factors that
the applicant considers important to the judgement of the case.
While appeals and variances come to the board of zoning appeals only after the
zoning inspector has refused to issue a zoning permit, applications for
conditional use permits come to the board of zoning appeals directly from the
Conditional uses possess unique or special characteristics relating to location,
design, size, traffic generation, and method of operation. Because of these
characteristics, each use is considered on an individual basis. The conditions,
which dictate the issuance of the permit, are usually directed toward minimizing
possible detrimental effects of the proposed use on the character, value, and
development of the adjacent area. It is necessary to have requirements for
conditional uses that are an explicit part of the zoning resolution.
The conditions required to protect and preserve the character of the area and to
promote the public health; safety and welfare can vary with each conditional use
and its resulting effect on surrounding development.
Specific conditions may include requirements for a greater amount of open space,
the location of entrance or exit drives, special lighting, noise control
requirements, and fencing or landscaping. A given conditional use is permitted
only in those districts so specified. The board of zoning appeals is responsible
only for judging compliance with conditions established by the Township
Trustees. The board of zoning appeals does not determine what conditions must be
met. This is a legislative action, which is reserved for the Township Trustees.
If the applicant meets all conditions, the board of zoning appeals must issue a
permit. If the conditions are not met, the board may not issue the permit.
A zoning resolution should contain both general and specific standards for
conditional uses. General standards are largely statements of intent and should
govern the general concerns of the board of zoning appeals in making all
conditional use decisions. General standards address such issues as the
relationship of the proposed conditional use to the comprehensive plan and
character of the area; the availability of essential public facilities and
services; the economic welfare of the area; the likelihood that the use will
generate excessive traffic, noise, or air pollution; and other similar
In addition to the general standards for all conditional uses specified above,
each zoning resolution should contain some specific criteria for each
conditionally permitted use. For example, a sand and gravel or limestone quarry
operation may be a conditionally permitted use in an agricultural district and a
manufacturing district. In order to receive a conditional zoning permit, the
applicant must conform to both the general standards applicable to all
conditional uses and the more specific standards designed to apply to mineral
extraction. These specific criteria might include requiring the quarry to be
enclosed by a fence, prohibiting operation within a certain distance of existing
residential structures, requiring certain types of land restoration, and
limiting hours of operation.
ItIt is important to specify the design or performance standards of each
individual conditional use. Standards that are too general may allow the board
of zoning appeals to exercise too much discretion. The decision of the board of
zoning appeals should be made within definable standards, and the more specific
the drafters of the resolution are, the easier is the job for the board of
As a function of updating the zoning resolution and zoning map, structures and
uses that were legally occurring prior to the change may be reclassified as a
legal non-conforming use due to an increase in required setback or change in
permitted use. Ohio courts refer to the following collectively as non-conforming
uses: (1) non-conforming buildings or structures, (2) conforming uses of
non-conforming buildings, (3) non-conforming uses of conforming buildings, and
(4) non-conforming uses of land.
Section 519.19 of the Ohio Revised Code is labeled “Non-conforming Use of
Buildings and Land Not Affected by Zoning.” It states that the lawful use of any
dwelling, building, or structure and of any land or premises, as existing and
lawful at the time of enactment of a zoning resolution or amendment thereto, may
be continued, although such use does not conform with such resolution or
amendment, but if any such non-conforming use is voluntarily discontinued for
two years or more, any future use of said land shall be in conformity with
sections 519.02 to 519.25, inclusive, of the Revised Code. The board of township
trustees shall provide in any zoning resolution for the completion, restoration,
reconstruction, extension, or substitution of non-conforming uses upon such
reasonable terms as are set forth in the zoning resolution. Section 21.01(D) of
the Clearcreek Zoning Code addresses the requirement of ORC 519.19.
Thus, the BZA’s role is to pass judgment on non-conforming uses and decide on a
case-by-case basis how the use will impact the Township as the Zoning Code works
to eliminate such cases.
A property owner that requests a non-conformance hearing must respond to six
points when requesting the BZA to authorize the completion, restoration,
reconstruction, in whole or part, extension, or substitution of legal
- Nature of such use in relationship to the character of adjacent uses.
- Lot size.
- Set back lines.
- Traffic conditions.
- Other factors the BZA considers important.
A citizen may take appeals to the board of zoning appeals. The appeal must be
filed within twenty days after the decision of the zoning inspector. The
inspector must send the board of zoning appeals all records relating to the
The procedure for hearing an appeal, variance or conditional use application is
specified in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC 519.15).
Following is a brief summary of the major steps required:
It is important that these procedures be exactly followed. If, for example, the
board of zoning appeals refuses to approve a request for a variance, the
applicant’s only recourse is to the Court of Common Pleas. It is often assumed
that an appeal from the board of zoning appeals may be taken to the Township
Trustees. This is not proper procedure. The Township Trustees have no authority
to hear appeals, variances or conditional uses. They are solely a legislative
body. An appeal from the board of zoning appeals must be made to the Court of
- The board of zoning appeals schedules a public hearing within a
“reasonable time." It is recommended the public hearing be held within 20
days from the date the application is filed.
- The board of zoning appeals sends a notice of public hearing to "parties
in interest" at least 10 days before the public hearing. All property owners
in the general vicinity that might be affected by the decision should be
notified. It is always better to notify too many citizens than to omit anyone
- The board of zoning appeals publishes a notice of public hearing in a
newspaper of general circulation at least 10 days before the hearing.
- The board of zoning appeals makes a decision within a "reasonable time."
It is recommended the decision be made within 20 days of the date of the