Thinking About Home Improvements?
Your home has a gorgeous deck and you want to add a roof and walls to create a three-season room. There is space to do the project, but it turns out that you are required to apply for a variance based on your property’s zoning.
What Is a Variance?
Zoning determines what can and cannot be done on properties. Upper Makefield belongs to a jointure with Newtown Township and Wrightstown Township, and together they have adopted a Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO). The JMZO regulates zoning in the three municipalities. Determining your property’s zoning district will help you know what is permitted on the site. If your project would require a departure from a permitted use, then a variance is required. As the property owner, you must demonstrate an unnecessary hardship due to unique characteristics of the property which prevent conformity and that an approved variance would not cause a detrimental effect to the public welfare, as well as additional standards. Variance requests are submitted to the Zoning Hearing Board.
The Zoning Hearing Board
The Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) is a quasi-judicial body that hears requests for variances, special exceptions, appeals to determinations by the zoning officer and challenges to the land use ordinance. It is comprised of five members with up to three alternates and functions similarly to a court with its own legal requirements. A court stenographer documents the official record.
Though its members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors, the ZHB operates independently and has its own solicitor. However, the Code does allow the Township representation in a ZHB proceeding as “an interested party.” Therefore, variance requests are carefully reviewed by the Board of Supervisors, particularly when the request is for relief from impervious surface limitations which could exacerbate flooding.
Contact Township Staff Early
Zoning Hearing Board requests are time consuming and costly, and they can delay your project. That’s why homeowners are urged to plan projects that meet ordinances when possible. Contact the Planning and Zoning Department early in the planning process: They may be able to help you design within the Code or offer suggestions to limit the relief requested.