Local Gov’t 101 – What is a Zoning Hearing Board

The Zoning Hearing Board of Lower Macungie was in the news recently. This is the second in a continuing series outlining local government in the greater East Penn area and how you can get involved in the decision making process! 

The Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) is a “quasi-judicial” board that rules on requests for exceptions to the zoning ordinance. The Board also hears appeals from the decisions of the zoning officer. The zoning ordinance is the code of rules that outline what you can and can’t do with your property. The purpose is to protect the rights of landowners but also neighbors and the community at large. For example, if you live in a residential neighborhood, it’s supposed to protect you from someone coming in and building a warehouse adjacent to your property. The ZHB is not responsible for the content of a zoning ordinance but only the interpretation of the ordinance. It’s easy to see why appointments to this board are so important.

Boards consist of three regular members and alternate members, all of whom are residents of the municipality. Members are appointed by the governing board. The board must assure fair and equitable administration of the zoning ordinance. Though the board has some discretion in a township it is bound to the Municipal Planning Code.

All local municipalities in Pa with zoning ordinances have Zoning Hearing Boards. Macungie Borough, Alburtis Borough, Emmaus and Lower Macungie all have their own. Each governing body appoints officers.

Developers, business owners and residents can request relief. In large greenfield development project it isnt uncommon for developers to requests dozens of exceptions. A ZHB must exhibit caution to ensure relief is only granted in cases where it does not harm the general public.

Examples of recent topics during hearings in LMT:

  • A restaurant requested relief for an outdoor dining project.
  • A resident requested relief to build a fence in restricted flood plane.
  • Hamilton Crossings requested a variance allowing for up to 80% impervious cover. (Parking lots, roads, sidewalks and buildings where rainwater cannot seep directly into the ground)
  • Panera Bread requested a variances to allow for a drive through.

To receive an exception from zoning rules, an applicant must prove a “hardship” that warrants “relief”.

The ZHB is a critical part of municipal government. Appointments should be taken very seriously. Decisions made play a crucial role in the development and growth of a town.

Learn more about:
What is the role of a Township Board of Commissioners

Coming soon.
What is the role of a Borough Council/Mayor – Alburtis, Macungie, Emmaus.
What is the role of a Planning Commission
What are the roles of professional staff – Zoning Officers, Planners, Managers ect.
Roles of community Groups – How to get involved! Senior Groups, CEPTA, EPIC, Friends LMT, CFC, Historical Commission ect. ect.