What is the status of my zoning board of appeals?

For many rural townships in Michigan, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) may see sparse and irregular action, often with a year or more between meetings.

Occasionally, when a request comes before a township that requires action by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), the township is left asking itself many questions including who are the current members, are they even current, and, rarely, if they ever even established a ZBA. These questions are understandable, as often a long period of time has passed since the ZBA was utilized, and currently there are few, if any, officials who were in their positions at that time.

To ensure fairness to your community and protect your township from potential litigation, townships should address their ZBA prior to any potential requests. The status of the ZBA should be reviewed and reported-on annually at the Township Board level, and the ZBA should meet at least once annually (even if no requests are before them). Since ZBA appointments are staggered, there should be a minimum of at least one new appointment or reappointment and swearing-in to the ZBA annually. A record should be kept of these actions on file at the township hall.

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being unprepared to respond to a ZBA request, you will need to act quickly to ensure due process to the applicant. First, you will need to assess who has been appointed to the ZBA and whether those appointments are current (hint: if it has been more than a year, at least one appointment will most probably be expired and thus require action). If no record exists, you will need to appoint the entire ZBA (stagger the appointments) and have them sworn-in by the Clerk.

If you find your township in the position of not knowing if the ZBA was ever even established (no record exists, not even in the zoning ordinance), then you will still need to appoint members to the ZBA. Many attorneys and organizations representing local governments hold the position that townships have the inherent right under Michigan law to establish a ZBA, and therefore may go ahead and appoint the ZBA. In this situation it is strongly recommended, however, to obtain a legal opinion from your township attorney before proceeding.

For additional questions or assistance, you may contact your local Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy Educator on the Land Use Education Serevices page.

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