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Board of Zoning Appeals

Posted on May 1, 2018

BZA is Grass Roots Government at Work

The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), perhaps more than any other Township board, is an example of grass roots government in action. Property owners or businesses who want to build something that's a little too close, a little too high or a little too big, typically must take their cases to the BZA.

While most other Township citizen boards provide assistance or direction to Township government itself, the BZA is one of two boards that issue decisions directly affecting what property owners may or may not do. In effect, the Board of Zoning Appeals is a group of five residents who interpret the Township's Zoning Resolution for their neighbors.

The board's purpose is to look out for the spirit and intent of the Zoning Resolution, even when exceptions to the rule are made. The ultimate goal to preserve and protect property values for all residents.

Members of the Board of Zoning Appeals meet twice per month to consider requests for variances to the Zoning Resolution or to review Conditional Use Permits. The BZA also may hear and rule on challenges to staff interpretations of the zoning map. During one year, the board will hear an average of about 35 cases.

The Washington Township Board of Trustees appoint BZA members to five-year, overlapping terms, however the board is free to function independently of elected officials. Their decisions can only be appealed to the Court of Common Pleas.

Most BZA cases are presented by businesses or homeowners who are requesting a variance. The most common business requests involve signs –– for instance, placing them higher than allowed, increasing their square footage, or moving them closer to the street. However, most variances are requested by homeowners who want to make a home improvement such as building a shed, adding a covered deck, or constructing an addition to their home.

Variances are for people who encounter practical difficulties in meeting the requirements of the Zoning Resolution.They have the ability to seek relief from zoning standards that make construction impractical. For instance, topography, such as a creek or an embankment, can make placement difficult.

When reviewing variance requests, board members must follow the Ohio Revised Code's "Practical Difficulties Test."As a result, many variances are turned down or minimized.

Property owners who wish to obtain Conditional Use Permits also must have their application approved by the BZA.A conditional use typically is a more intense use than the original zoning district's principal permitted uses. It could be larger in scale or generate more traffic, or require parking lots.

Each zoning designation in Washington Township allows for some specified conditional uses, such as the construction of a church or school within a residential area.

Because the BZA frequently must say no to applicants, its members must have well-reasoned explanations for their decisions. The township is fortunate to have knowledgeable board members who are adept at focusing on the legal requirements that need to be met.


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