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Do You Know ZBA?

Submitted by Ed Munster.

Except for town elections when there are ZBA [Zoning Board of Appeals] members on the ballot most residents know very little about this Board. Haddam’s ZBA meets on the last Thursday of the month which is not necessarily the fourth Thursday and when there are no appeals being requested, there will be no meeting.  [By the way the meeting in November 2014 will be Tuesday Nov. 25 because the last Thursday is Thanksgiving.]

The purpose of ZBA is to hear appeals from residents who want to build or do something on their property which is not allowed by Haddam’s zoning regulations. During the discussion on one of the appeals being considered last night (Oct.30) one ZBA member stated that we have regulations so why don’t people just find a way to follow the regulations instead asking for a variance.  Another long time member of the Board responded that if everyone were forced to follow the regulations there would be no need for ZBA.  Justification for a variance is based on unusual hardship.  But this is not so easy to define.

According to workshop materials provided by the Connecticut Federation of Planning and Zoning Agencies, “A hardship resulting from the peculiar topography or condition of the land, or a particular location which makes the property unsuitable for the use permitted in the zone in which it lies, may be the kind of hardship which would justify the granting of a variance.” It goes on to say that in the case of a self-inflicted hardship “the board lacks the authority to grant a variance.  This includes the situation where a property is purchased in a zone where the purchased knew that his desired use is not permitted”.

Whenever a person is asking for a variance to zoning regulations it is necessary to notify adjoining neighbors to give them the opportunity to voice their opinion on the request. This is done by certified mail and evidence that this was done by the person making the appeal must be provided to the Board.  In the case of one of the appeals last night, a ZBA member asked if the mailing was actually received by the neighbors but this is not required by the regulations only that the mailing was done by certified mail to the correct address.  The reason given for this was that a neighbor could hold up the appeal process for months by simply not responding or signing off that he had received the mailing.  This would disadvantage the person making the appeal.

Another interesting fact about ZBA is that while there are five members on the Board, approval of an appeal requires four positive votes.   This means that if there are only four members present at a meeting approval would require a unanimous vote.  If a variance is denied by ZBA the resident can appeal to the court system for relief.

At the ZBA meeting 10/30/14 there were two variances requested. One was for an addition to a home at 180 Camp Bethel Road in Haddam which would extend 10 feet into the side lot setback and be only 10 feet from the neighbor’s border where the regulations call for a 20 foot setback.   This variance was granted by a unanimous vote of ZBA.  No neighbor spoke in opposition.

The second situation (in Haddam Neck) on 171 Injun Hollow Road was a bit more involved.   The person applying for the variance had applied for a subdivision of the property about 10 years ago but allowed his permit to expire without carrying out the project.  Since that time the regulations have changed in ways which require a number of variances in order for him to build a home on the property.   Some of the issues are (1) the setback of the 150’ X 150’ buildable square which by regulation must be set at least 50’ from a wetland and (2) the setback of the buildable square from the property line which must be 20’.   Because of these various considerations ZBA decided to have a site visit which will take place on Nov. 7 at 2:00 PM.  The hearing will be continued until next month’s ZBA meeting.  A number of residents from Haddam Neck both for and against the variance were present at the meeting.