Zoning Board of Appeals Online Certificate Course


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The ZBA Online Certificate Course is a self-paced online training designed for members of the local government Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), local government staff who work alongside the ZBA, and local government managers and attorneys.  

The role of the ZBA is critically important. Decisions made by the ZBA allow people to do things with their property that otherwise may not be permitted by the zoning ordinance, or to uphold or overturn a decision by the zoning administrator or planning commission. This is a huge power that, when used correctly, protects the rights of private property owners while preserving the intent of the ordinance and protecting the public good. 

If done well, effective decisions made by the ZBA will: 

  • Uphold private property rights, 
  • Protect due process for appellants and neighboring property owners alike, 
  • Help landowners understand the purpose of land use regulation in protecting public health, safety, and welfare, 
  • Help implement the community master plan by protecting the integrity of the zoning ordinance, 
  • Strengthen the role of the zoning ordinance in community and economic development, 
  • Build civic support for good governance in the community, and 
  • Protect against lawsuits, among other outcomes. 

On the other hand, individual ZBA members, untrained or poorly trained, could cause harm for not implementing their role and responsibilities consistent with state law. At a minimum, they can hamper the ZBA from properly doing its job. At worst, they can make the community vulnerable to lawsuits (and be individually liable) by taking improper actions and leading the board towards bad decisions. 

The ZBA Online Certificate Course teaches the latest concepts on ZBA roles and responsibilities, effective decision-making, and protecting due process. The curriculum is based on the award-winning Citizen Planner Program and features ZBA-specific content, engaging activities, case studies, and the latest Michigan case law. Course completion includes an MSU Extension certificate. 


The course is based in MSU’s Desire to Learn (D2L) online learning platform and can be accessed 24/7 - individuals can do as much or as little at one time as fits their schedule. To participate, you will need a mobile or broadband internet connection and a computer, tablet, or mobile device (iOS or Android).

The course consists of six separate modules: 

  1. Understanding Basic ZBA Roles & Responsibilities 
  2. Effective Decisions and Ordinance Interpretations 
  3. Hearing Appeals of Administrative Decisions 
  4. Issuing Variances from Ordinance Standards 
  5. Other Responsibilities Assigned to the ZBA: Nonconformities 
  6. Circuit Court Review and Standards 

Within each module, there are individual video lectures, engaging activities, and supplemental readings, and participants can complete one component at a time or all components for that module in one sitting. Upon completion of the entire course, participants will automatically earn a certificate of completion.

Continuing education

The ZBA Online Certificate Course is approved for six (6) Master Citizen Planner education hours. 


The course price is $125. A group discount is available for three or more members registering from the same board. Financial assistance is available upon request. Some municipal liability insurance providers reimburse member communities for the cost of planning and zoning training. The Michigan Township Participating Plan (Par Plan) - Risk Reduction Program is one such reimbursement program available to Par Plan members only. Contact your municipal liability insurance provider to ask about reimbursement.


Select one of the options below for more information on how to register for ZBA Online: 

Self-Registration Instructions

Bulk Enrollment Instructions 

(Enrolling another individual)

Technical assistance

If you have any technical problems, please contact the Michigan State University IT Service Desk from 7am-12am Monday through Friday and 10am-12am on Saturday/Sunday, any day that the University is open. 

If you need to reset your password at any time go to https://auth.msu.edu/ and select the option for "Need help Signing in." 

More Information 

Have a question about the course? For more information, contact Kara Kelly at cplanner@msu.edu.