The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) hears appeals, evaluates requests for interpretations and approves or denies dimensional and use variances. A variance is permission from the ZBA to allow a deviation from the code or ordinance as it pertains to zoning matters. Zoning codes are in place to regulate the use of land within a community. To bypass a zoning code, the property owner is required to get approval from the ZBA for a variance. The majority of cases before the ZBA are variances and in Michigan there are two types of variances: dimensional (non-use) and use variances.
A nonuse or dimensional variances is a modification of a provision or requirement of the zoning ordinance authorized by the zoning board of appeals when the strict or literal application of the ordinance would cause “practical difficulties” for the applicant. Nonuse variance requests are typically associated with modifications of required yard setbacks, building heights, parking requirements, landscaping or buffering restrictions and related building or facility placement provisions. The granting of a nonuse variances requires the appellant to demonstrate a practical difficulty. When considering both use and nonuse variances, the ZBA must ensure that the “spirit of the ordinance is observed, public safety secured and substantial justice done.”
If either a use or nonuse variance is denied, the applicant may appeal the decision to the County Circuit Court. The Court review the appeal “denovo,” meaning it only looks at the record before the Zoning Board of Appeals. Further, the appellate standard of review is very high. Therefore, it is extremely important to make sure that the applicant provides as much information as possible to the Zoning Board of Appeals and works with professionals to give it the best advantage of seeking the relief he or she desires in the variance.