A guide to the Zoning Hearing Board

Citizens attending the Zoning Hearing Board tonight may want to download this file to read before or during the meeting as a guide.  Click on the graphic to download.

Members of Columbia’s Zoning Hearing Board are listed at the Borough Website; though it is anticipated that the mayor will administer the oath of office to newly appointed Zoning Hearing Board personnel before tonight’s board hearing begins.

zhb guide

This guide is “to educate both professionals and nonprofessionals on the ways that planning and land use management are achieved within the commonwealth.”

Excerpts from the Guide include:

  • An appointment to a Zoning Hearing Board is an important yet complex responsibility which requires a thorough understanding of functions relating to the application and administration of the zoning ordinance. As such, the Zoning
    Hearing Board publication is specifically designed for the following purposes:

1. To provide a summary of the roles, responsibilities, and terms of zoning hearing board member appointments.
2.  To describe the functions of the zoning hearing board, including challenges to the substantive validity of ordinances and related procedures.
3.  To outline the procedures to be followed for conducting hearings on applications and appeals and the issuance of written decisions.

  • The zoning hearing board is a quasi-judicial body that renders decisions on specific types of land use appeals and applications. Members of the zoning hearing board are appointed by the governing body. Although the zoning hearing board functions like a court, formal court procedures are not strictly required.
  • The zoning hearing board has no legislative power; it can neither make nor modify zoning policy. Neither does the zoning hearing board have enforcement powers.
  • It is important that the zoning hearing board members have a thorough knowledge not only of its specific functions, but also of its place within the arena of local planning decisions.
  • A member of the zoning hearing board may not hold an elective office or be appointed to the planning commission.
  • In the course of hearings before a zoning hearing board, conflict of interest issues may arise from two sources:
    • financial conflicts of interest governed by the Ethics Act and applicable to all “municipal officials” (by definition inclusive of members of the zoning hearing board) and (ii) conflicts of interest under principles of due process, that is the right to be heard by a fair and impartial tribunal and applicable to a zoning hearing board that functions in a quasi-judicial capacity. Section 1103(a) of the Ethics Act provides that “[n]o public official or public employee shall engage in conduct that constitutes a conflict of interest.” The Ethics Act defines “conflict of interest” as “[u]se by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any confidential information received through his holding public office or employment for a private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated. The terms do not include an action having a de minimis economic impact or which affect to the same degree a class consisting of the general public or a subclass consisting of an industry, occupation or other group which includes the public official or public employee, a member of his immediate family or a business with he or a member of his immediate family is associated.” “De minimis economic impact” is defined as “[a]n economic consequence which has an insignificant effect.” Section 1103(j) of the Ethics Act requires, in the event of conflict of interest under the Ethics Act, that recusal of the individual with the conflict must “publicly announce and disclose the nature of his interest [the conflict of interest] as a public record in a written memorandum filed with the person responsible for recording the minutes of the meeting at which the vote is taken.” The individual recused may not participate in the matter from which he is recused. That is, he may not participate in the discussion, make a motion, second a motion, or vote on a motion relating to the matter.
    • Even if the member feels that there will be no conflict of interest, it may not appear this way to the public. By explanation of the situation or relationship, the disclosure will “clear the air” and allow the public to make an informed judgment. It is always wise to consult with a solicitor if doubt about conflict exists.


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