From Ohio State University Fact Sheet: Zoning CDFS-1265-99
Part 2 of 2
The Zoning Triangle: Commission, BZA, and Inspector
Three basic units administer zoning – the zoning commission, the board of zoning appeals (BZA), and the zoning inspector. They depend on one another to make sure zoning is fair and effective in a community.
In unincorporated areas, the zoning commission is made up of five citizens, per the ORC. In charter communities, the planning commission may carry out the zoning commission duties and may have a different membership, often defined by the charter. The commission is an advisory group, and zoning decisions may be overruled by unanimous agreement of the local legislative body (township trustees, county commissioners, or city council).
The basic duties of the zoning commission are preparing the zoning text and map, holding public hearings, initiating zoning amendments, and making formal recommendations on all amendments.
Text and Map The text is the written part of the zoning resolution. Typically, the text covers definitions, enforcement, administration, exceptions, rezoning, outlines of the different districts, parking, signage, mobile home parks, floodplains, provisions for the zoning maps, and other features. Zoning districts are generally classified into residential, industrial, commercial, and agricultural districts although they often allow districts that permit a blend of uses. The zoning map is drawn up to show which areas are classified in which district.
Adoption of zoning regulations by a community does not mean, however, that the previously stated purposes will be fulfilled. First of all, the zoning text must appropriately address the particular needs of the community. It must have the proper balance of flexibility and firmness. Also, the zoning text and map must be kept up-to-date. Typically, they should be updated every five years so the process can reflect changing community priorities and realities of growth.
Zoning Amendments Amendments are extremely important to the zoning process. An amendment, or rezoning, is a change in the zoning map or text. Zoning regulations must be flexible to allow the community to be responsive to the need for legitimate changes. The amendment process enables the community to monitor changes and encourage those that enhance the community. It also allows the public a voice in changing zoning regulations. In rapid growth areas, requests for amendments are very common and often controversial, because they may cause changes in traffic flow, runoff, aesthetics, noise, and other factors that may affect surrounding property.
Amendments are initiated in the following ways – adoption of a motion by the zoning commission; adoption of a resolution by the county commissioners, township trustees, or city council; the filing of an application by at least one owner or lessee of property within the area proposed to be changed or affected by the amendment.
The zoning inspector is responsible for the day-to-day administration and enforcement of the zoning regulations. He/she is appointed by the township trustees, county commissioners (in the case of county zoning), or the municipal legislative or administrative body.
The inspector’s duties involve reviewing applications for zoning permits, conducting on-site inspections, investigating violations, maintaining records of nonconforming uses, maintaining up-to-date text and map, and proposing amendments. In zoned areas, all new construction and many additions and other changes in property must receive a zoning permit from the inspector. He/she must have a thorough knowledge of the zoning text and map and use these as a basis for granting permits and citing violations.
Board of Zoning Appeals
The board of zoning appeals (BZA) is the “judicial branch” of zoning administration. In unincorporated areas, the board of zoning appeals is made up of five local residents. Municipal BZAs are similar. If a person wants to do something with his/her property that is not specifically allowed in the zoning regulations, that person may ask for a conditional use or a variance, depending on the circumstances. Both are obtained through the BZA.
Both variances and conditional uses require a hearing from the BZA. However, variances are true exceptions to the zoning resolution, while conditional uses are allowed changes that require a hearing. Municipalities may modify the roles of BZAs. Zoning officials must judiciously monitor these change processes if zoning is to serve its true purpose in a community. Allowing arbitrary and inconsistent changes can weaken the integrity of the regulations and trigger land-use conflicts, loss of property values, and lawsuits.
Variances A more technical definition of a variance is a modification of the strict terms of the zoning regulations where such modification will not be contrary to the public interest and where, owing to conditions peculiar to the property and not the result of the applicant, a literal enforcement of the regulations would result in unnecessary and undue hardship.
If a person applies for a zoning permit and the zoning inspector denies it, he/she may request a variance (or appeal the decision of the inspector). If, due to special conditions, the literal enforcement of the ordinance causes an individual unnecessary hardship, a variance can be granted. A BZA should have standards against which it judges every variance and conditional-use request in order keep decisions consistent and defensible.
Conditional Uses Conditional uses are those that are perfectly appropriate for a district but require a hearing to determine that they will not have adverse effects as defined by the conditional-use standards in the resolution. They require approval of the BZA. For example, in a commercial district, a restaurant may be a permitted use, but a drive-through restaurant may be a conditional use.