Roles and Functions of the Zoning Board of Appeals: The Basics (Part 1)

The zoning board of appeals was created as a “safety valve,” in recognition that the zoning ordinance is not able to anticipate how every property might be affected by zoning. With thousands of individual properties, a single zoning regulation cannot possibly be applied uniformly to every property's unique physical characteristics. Learn how the ZBA serves as a safety valve in circumstances where zoning requirements don't fit. Explore how variances approved without sufficient justification can turn the safety valve into a leak, and a leak into a flood.

As part one of a three-part series, The Basics explores the delicate balancing act between property rights and public interest along with the impact zoning relationships have on ordinances. Learn more about voting requirements, as well as the duties and responsibilities of the Zoning Board of Appeals. Zoning ordinance interpretations will also be discussed.

NOTE: To get the most of out of this series, MTA recommends that you participate in part two Variances and part three Decision-making & Documentation to gain a full understanding of the topic. 

Thank you to Michigan Township Participating Plan for helping to underwrite the cost of this program. For more information, visit

Steve Langworthy

Director of Land Use & Long Range Planning, Dublin, Ohio

Steve Langworth received a Masters of Urban Planning from the University of Michigan and spent 6 years as a planning director and zoning administrator for the city of Kentwood, Michigan (among others), and over 20 years as a consulting planner, most recently with LSL Planning in Grand Rapids.

Steve has authored numerous Master Plans, Zoning Ordinances, and special studies for communities of all sizes and characteristics. He is a frequent MTA presenter and the principal author of MTA’s Township Guide to Planning and Zoning and Township Planning & Zoning Decision-making Handbook.


Roles & Functions of the Zoning Board of Appeals - The Basics
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