ZBA Application Procedures

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Prior to application for the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), the petitioner must apply for and be denied a building permit. Building permit must be applied for and denied before an application can be made to the ZBA. It must be stressed that the Board takes a “dim view” of persons who build without obtaining a valid permit and then try to get a variance to cover themselves. Furthermore, the ZBA cannot grant a variance because it is inconvenient or more expensive to build to Ordinance or solely to satisfy aesthetic concerns. The ZBA has generally found that purely aesthetic considerations and self-created hardships are unacceptable grounds for a variance.

Denial of permit may not qualify applicant for ZBA.

The ZBA must operate under strict guidelines laid down in the law. The Board must have specific information before acting upon each petition. After a building permit has been denied, the following procedure must be followed to be placed on the ZBA agenda.

1. A letter containing the following information must be received prior to being placed on the 
    ZBA agenda.

    a. It must be indicated why there is a need to construct the addition, fence, garage, etc. 
    b. It must be indicated why the building cannot be in compliance with the Ordinance by
        relocating on the site, making a size adjustment, having a detached rather than attached
        garage, etc.

2. Each submission must indicate if there are any physical problems with the site that prevent
    building in compliance with the Ordinance. Examples are irregular shaped or substandard size
    lot (standard size lots are 60 X 120 feet), large trees or stream on lot, in ground pool and 
    location of easements.

3. Clearly drawn and labeled plans/drawings of the proposed structure and the site are essential 
    to each case and must be submitted in eight (8) sets of each item, one set for each member
    of the Zoning Board of Appeals for review. The Board can only act if they clearly understand 
    the problem.

4. Completed application and fees must be received prior to being placed on the agenda. Regular
     meetings are the first Thursday of the month. Fees are presently $200.00 for new and existing
     residential, and $500.00 for commercial/industrial applications and $1,000.00 for special meetings.
     The deadline for submission is by noon on the Wednesday per the meeting schedule.

To grant a variance, a simple majority of the five member Board is required. If there are any questions about preparing a submission, please call the Plymouth Township Building Department at (734) 354-3208.


A physical variance or the relaxation of a physical requirement offers a property owner relief from the strict application of restrictions governing such matters as area, set-backs, lot coverage and other physical requirements. The physical variance does not effect what land use may be established on a parcel; rather it covers issues related to how permitted land use can be developed in the face of some practical difficulty. A physical variance is sometimes referred to as an area variance, dimensional variance or non-use variance to distinguish it from a use variance.

Zoning Ordinance No. 99, Article 31 permits the ZBA to grant a physical variance where strict application of a physical requirement would result in unnecessary hardship or practical difficulty. These terms are defined as follows:

Unnecessary Hardship

The term unnecessary or undue hardship refers to hardship based upon unusual conditions in the size, shape, topography, directional orientation or building characteristics for a specific property that make it impossible or impractical for an owner to use the property for any permitted conforming use. The term does not refer to personal hardship (e.g. the economic position of a property owner). The hardship alleged must be on the property itself.

The following criteria must be satisfied to show unnecessary hardship:

a. The property could not reasonably be used for any purpose permitted in the zoning district.

b. The plight is due to unique circumstances peculiar to the property and not to general
    neighborhood conditions.

c. The grant of the variance would not alter the essential character of the area.

d. The problem is not self-created.

The unnecessary hardship standard is a more stringent standard than the practical difficulty standard. The unnecessary hardship standard is the standard that must be met for a use variance in municipalities that may grant a use variance. The Plymouth Township ZBA does not have the authority to grant a use variance. If an applicant does satisfy the unnecessary hardship standard however, he will have met the practical difficulty standard and thus be entitled to consideration for a physical variance.

Practical Difficulty

Practical difficulty is a broad term designed to ensure flexibility in the enforcement of the zoning ordinance so that the occasional “kinks” a generalized zoning plan creates for some properties may be ironed out in a manner that will ensure that the spirit of the ordinance is observed, public safety is secured, and substantial justice is done.

The following criteria must be satisfied to show practical difficulty:

a. The problem is not self-created.

b. The plight of the landowner is due to the unique conditions of the property. A unique condition
    is a condition that is peculiar to the subject property or to at most a few properties within the
    same zoning district and typically relates to a physical aspect of the subject property. but a
    variance to permit a three-car garage in the same neighborhood would not.

c. Compliance with the strict letter of the restrictions governing physical requirements governing
    physical requirements such as lot area, set backs, and lot coverage unreasonably prevent the
    owner from using the property for a permitted purpose or would render conformity with such
    restrictions unnecessarily burdensome. Note that the practical difficulty standard only requires
    the applicant to demonstrate an inability to secure one permitted purpose whereas the
    unnecessary hardship standard requires the applicant to demonstrate that all permitted uses
    within the district cannot be secured. As noted above, the applicant is only required to meet
    the practical difficulty standard for the grant of a physical variance.

d. The variance would grant fairness to the applicant and in a manner that is consistent with the
    level enjoyed by others in the district. For example, a variance to accommodate a two-car
    garage in a neighborhood where a two-car garage is the norm could be justified

In practice, the Plymouth Township ZBA has found the practical difficulty standard to be satisfied by conditions that are unique to the land or by personal considerations that would become burdensome without relief. Note the following examples: 

Unique Land Conditions: Directional orientation, preservation of vegetation , restrictions imposed on the lot by topographic constraints, irregular shape, location of floodplain or wetlands, existing easement, location of utilities.

Personal Considerations: Increase in family size, abnormal health consideration, Township error.

You may pick up an Application for Zoning Board of Appeals in the Township Building Department at 9955 N. Haggerty Road or print one from the Forms and Permits page.