In the continuing series of articles on local government, I have been writing about the important role the numerous boards and commissions play within the community, and the vital contribution the volunteers who serve their community as members of the boards make by providing input and direction impacting all of our futures. In this article, I’m writing about the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Since the 1930s zoning laws have been the standard mechanism in the United States to preserve property values and make sure individuals don’t make ill-advised decisions on where to locate certain businesses or residential buildings. Zoning is an umbrella term for the set of regulations that determine where you can build, what you can build and what activities are permitted to take place within an identified area of the community (zoning district).
If you want to begin a home occupation altering clothes in your home, you’d better check the zoning in advance. If you want to construct an addition to your home, build a moat around your property to keep the dragons (or the neighbors children) away, or even open a brew pub, you’d better check the zoning regulations in advance.
For many years, Sidney (as well as most other communities) did not have zoning regulations. The discussion of a Sidney Zoning Ordinance dates back to at least 1939. In a search of historic council minutes (available online dating back to 1857), I found this entry in the Nov. 12, 1940, minutes of particular interest: “Mrs. Leo Uppencamp presented a lengthy petition signed by approximately 150 property owners in the city requesting a zoning ordinance as a protection to property being devaluated due to the building of shacks and other unsightly buildings.”
On Dec. 9, 1946, a public hearing was held on an interim zoning ordinance. Mrs. Uppencamp’s comments as well as others detailed in the minutes in meetings in the weeks following are well worth reading for those desiring a better understanding of the debate at the time.
Ordinance 2381 was adopted by Council on Jan. 27, 1947. It provided for interim zoning regulations. The ordinance was the subject of a subsequent, successful referendum.
However, the debate continued. During the July 23, 1951, council meeting, a Municipal and County Affairs Committee of the Sidney Civic Association presented a proposal “For A Better Sidney” to the Council. The committee included Roy Fry, C.D.W. Anderson, Mrs. Ray Burke, William Quinn, Harold Christman, John Sexauer and Oliver Amos.
Among the items listed, was the adoption of a zoning code to “continue to grow in a healthy condition.” Ordinance A-83 – the Zoning Ordinance was finally officially adopted on June 22, 1953 — nearly 14 years after the first entry found in the Council’s meeting minutes. The code has since been modified numerous times during the intervening 65 years.
Chapter 1151 of the city’s codified ordinances contains provisions pertaining to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. The Board consists of five members, appointed by council who are residents of the city. Each member serves a five-year term. At least one member is also a member of the City Planning Commission.
Present members of the Zoning Board of Appeals include Tom Ehler, Richard Sommer, Jim Fortkamp, Randy Rose and Jim Weaver. Mr. Ehler also serves as the liaison to the City Planning Commission.
The Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 4 p.m. on the third Monday of each month if a request for an appeal has been filed. If such a request has not been filed, the board simply does not meet.
Chapter 1151 also establishes the powers and duties of the Board. The Board hears and decides administrative appeals where it is alleged there is an error in any order, requirement, decision, or determination made by the city manager or his or her designee in the enforcement of this zoning code.
In addition, the Board makes determinations on variances. A variance is simply a “modification of the specific requirements of the zoning code granted by the board in accordance with the terms of the zoning code for the purpose of assuring that no property, because of special circumstances applicable to it, shall be deprived of privileges commonly enjoyed by other properties in the same vicinity and zoning district. Such modification shall not include authorizing a use not among the uses specified by this zoning code as permitted in the district in which such property is located.”
A more common form or a variance would be the reduction in the required set-back (the distance from the structure to the property line). Another would be a permit for an oversized, detached garage.
The board also grants or denies conditional use permits. A ‘conditional use’ is a use that is permitted, but only by application to the board in each specific instance, and after determination by the board that all regulations and standards of the zoning code applying to the specific use in the particular location will be met, along with such additional conditions or safeguards as the board may prescribe in the specific case and circumstances, in order to prevent harm or injury to adjacent uses and the neighborhood, and/or in order to improve the public health, safety, morals, convenience, order, prosperity and general welfare.
An example of a ‘conditional use’ would be a request for outside storage for an industrial or commercial property. Another would be the request for a home occupation in a residential district.
The board may permit the extension or substitution of a nonconforming use. A ‘nonconforming use’ is a either a building or land use legally existing at the time of the adoption of the zoning code or any amendment thereto, and which does not conform with all of the regulations of the district in which such building or use of land is located.
An example of a ‘nonconforming use’ would be a business requesting the extension of a gravel parking lot (gravel parking lots are not permitted). Another would be the request to put an addition on an existing three-unit apartment in a single-family residential district.
The board also has the power to subpoena witnesses, administer oaths and issue punishment for contempt. The board also has the power to require the production of documents under such regulations as it may establish.
As you can see, the zoning board of Appeals makes important, often difficult decisions. While their decisions as well as the zoning code itself, sometimes causes property owners consternation, the board and the code are in place to protect the property values for all members of the community.
In my next article, I’ll write about the Revolving Loan Fund Screening Committee. The Revolving Loan Fund was created in 1984 following receipt of a Community Block Grant from the Federal Government. As loans are made and repaid with interest, additional loans are made from the proceeds. The committee meets to consider applications for loans from the fund.
The writer is the mayor of Sidney.