Zoning Board of Adjustment Request for Relief
First, it is important to establish that for a Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) request for relief to succeed, the applicant must believe deeply in “environmental stewardship”, understand the ZBA process and be aware that the ZBA has all of the power.
The applicant has the burden of proof for convince the ZBA that their proposal is worthy of relief.
Understand The Requirements for A Variance
It’s critical that a ZBA relief request address the basic questions and criteria requirements for a Variance or Special Exception to be granted and for the questions to be answered completely and thoughtfully.
This can sometimes be difficult and requires commitment. Poorly answered questions or failing to answer a questions can derail an application.
While each case is unique, frequently a “non-conforming” building encroaches into a shoreline or watershed reference line. In these cases, Alae Residential Design’s approach is to propose a comprehensive strategy that significantly improves protection measures for the shoreline or watershed’s ecology.
Integration of building design, civil engineering and landscaping into a unified action always delivers results.
Demonstrate The Improvements Are More Nearly Conforming
Alae Residential Design’s essential strategy is to show how a “larger” or “improved and larger" residence will be “more nearly conforming” than the existing structure is and that the protective measures proposed will be of a greater benefit to the shoreline’s ecology than if nothing were done at all.
Understand The Intent of The Zoning Ordinance
The process begins with a deep understanding of a Town’s Zoning Ordinance. Careful reading of the ordinance will reveal the underlying purpose behind each zoning article. Remember, it is the purpose that is most important.
For example, a shoreline setback will be 75-ft from the reference line (the lake’s edge). The purpose of that setback is protection of shoreline ecology and the lake water quality. In this instance, Alae will focus on measures that achieve the purpose of “lake shore protection” by demonstrating that the proposed changes will be “more nearly conforming” in terms of the Zoning article’s intent (which is protecting the lake from eutrofication and degradation.)
Begin with A Plan Detailing Existing Conditions
The process of requesting relief from a ZBA starts with discovery. One rule of thumb is that “every problem suggests it’s solution.”
Alae Residential Design begins with a plan, prepared by a qualified surveyor or engineer, detailing existing conditions. By doing this, we have all the facts regarding, slope, location and size of ledge outcroppings, shoreline and other setbacks, forest conditions and drainage characteristics of the lot. Together, all of these factors provide the basis for the plan that we develop. They are the undisputable facts that will support the worthiness of our proposal.
Assembly of the right team is imperative, and selection of the team depends on the issues involved for a particular case. However, when complete, the solution presented will use a host of building, landscaping and civil engineering qualities, that act together to achieve permanent erosion control and attains the objective of being “more nearly conforming”.
The outcomes we propose are not fanciful narratives about a rain garden here and a retaining wall there. Alae Residential Design calculates the actual run-off from a 10, 20 or 50-year storm and shows how the measures we propose will collect and slowly discharge the water from the event “sub surface” to prevent surface erosion.
Selling The Proposals Highlights and Advantages
One often overlooked aspect in ZBA relief request process is making a dedicated and thoughtful effort to sell the proposal’s highlights and advantages when hearing the concerns of the abutters. If the abutters come to the meeting with negative feedback or write letters to that effect, the battle lines are drawn and approval becomes an up-hill battle.
On the other hand, if you have letters of support from abutters, any negative view of the ZBA can seem arbitrary and an overreach.
Attending The ZBA Hearing
Lastly, and most importantly, is the ZBA Hearing! This is the critical and most worrisome event in the process. Our entire team attends, armed with all the facts and figures developed. Alae Residential Design does not consider failure as an option. We come prepared and bring a sense of calm that comes from competence.
There is, however, one strategy, that Alae Residential knows (although we’ve never had to use it.) It is a last ditch move that most architects and even some lawyers fail to remember.
When the ZBA has heard all the arguments, all those present have had their chance to speak, and the ZBA members are about to go into final deliberation (just prior to their vote to Grant or Not to Grant), the meeting will be closed to all but ZBA members.
If you, the presenter, have a sense that you did not convince at least 3 of the 5 voting members of your position, you should ask them to stop them!
Once the ZBA has made a ruling, you will not be able to appeal that decision unless they have made a legal error. Additionally, you won’t be able to ask for a rehearing unless you have a substantially different proposal to offer.
If you feel you won’t prevail for your client, you should stop the process and say something like:
“Chairman, excuse me please, but we sense some important concerns could be better addressed and we would like to respectfully ask the ZBA to continue this case until their next scheduled meeting so that we might better address some of the concerns we have discovered during the course of the meeting. We would like to review additional options and offer improvements or adjustments that will better serve the Town and the abutters present tonight.”
A good rule to remember is to always be gracious no matter what the outcome, because ultimately what you are selling is your integrity and the next case will come soon enough for them to remember you. Always remember to thank everyone!