Photos courtesy of Riverhead Patch
The basic process is (1) application for variance, (2) public notification of application, (3) public hearing, (4) determination.
An in depth description of each step follows:
1. Application: An Application to the Zoning Board of Appeals must be submitted. A resident or business desiring to build or expand a structure or start or expand a use on a property that is not permitted according to zoning ordinances, local laws or restrictions on the property such as covenants, can ask for an exception or favorable interpretation of Town Code. This normally happens after an applicant has been informed that a project or use is not in conformance by the Building Department or Planning Department—or in response to advice or action of the Town Board, Planning Board or Code Enforcement. The public has every right to review these applications and other information related to a variance request.
2. Notification: The public must be notified of the variance request. A notice of the hearing is printed in the paper of record, which is currently the Riverhead News-Review. In addition, all residents that border or are across the street from the property must be notified via certified mail and a sign must be posted one week prior to the hearing. If this procedure is not followed to the letter and the ZBA is made aware of this fact then they are compelled to adjourn (postpone) the hearing. Public notification is only required for the first (correctly notified) hearing date, not for public hearings that are postponed or continue on (“held over” to) at least one more night.
Hearing Preparation: Anyone can get a copy of a variance application by contacting the Zoning Board of Appeals Secretary. Related documents should be available upon request, although you may be asked to fill out a F.O.I.L. request first. If you have questions about a variance and are considering speaking up at a hearing it is best to read some of these documents so you can be prepared. (Read the ZBA Public Hearing Tips in the lower left column to give you an idea of what to look for and Getting Info in the top left column to help you access what you need.) Information you may want to acquire includes:
If you have serious concerns about the effect the granting of a variance may have on your own property or quality of life, contact your local civic association or email RiverheadNPC@optonline.net for advice.
3. Hearing: Public hearings are generally held every 2nd and 4th Thursday evening. Agendas are posted online approximately a week prior to the hearing. The ZBA normally holds a work session during which they discuss the variances briefly amongst themselves in the public meeting room where the audience may observe but not participate. During the hearing, the applicant or their representative normally presents their case to the board. Neighbors and others also often express their concerns (or support) to the Board. Public hearings may take place during a single meeting or span multiple nights. See ZBA Public Hearing Tips in the lower left column for suggestions on how to participate in these hearings.
4. Determination: After the public hearing is closed, the ZBA must render a decision called a determination. In the more basic cases, the ZBA will vote immediately after public testimony is given at the close of the hearing. Often, in more complex or controversial cases, the ZBA votes to approve or deny a variance on another night. This is called a “reserved” decision. It takes three Yes votes to approve a variance. Currently, ZBA determinations are not posted online but must be requested via a F.O.I.L. to the Town Clerk. A comprehensive look at the ZBA and the rules and procedures that govern it can be found in this New York State publication.
| Town Board.
Anyone wishing to address the board on a particular variance request must do so from the podium, and must take an oath to tell the truth. Either the applicant or his/her representative will generally speak first. A lawyer often represents the applicant on commercial property requests but not usually on residential ones. On occasion, a resident or business owner who feels he or she may be negatively impacted by a variance is represented by a lawyer. This is a good idea, if the issue is important to you and you have the means, especially if you are opposing a variance because the ZBA rarely denies a variance.
When raising concerns about a variance, the ZBA is most interested in how granting the variance might affect you or those you represent and what can be done to lessen those impacts (if anything). The ZBA often puts conditions on variances intended to mitigate potential impacts based on issues and suggestions raised during these hearings. Keep in mind that the establishment of conditions is no guarantee that the applicant will abide by them. There is also no guarantee that the Town will enforce the conditions if they are broken.
When outright opposing a variance, it is advisable to explain to the board why you believe the variance may not meet the criteria the ZBA must base their decision on according to New York State and Riverhead Town guidelines (see Section 108-76). Please note that it is not uncommon for information on ZBA applications to be inaccurate and misleading and it can help make a strong case to point these problems out to the Board.
When opposing a variance, consider putting your comments in writing. This not only gives ZBA members an opportunity to review them before they render a decision, but also ensures your comments are admitted into the formal public hearing record. This may be important if, for example, the applicant applies for a future extension of this variance or if this variance becomes the subject of a future action, such as litigation.If you are attending a hearing but have not done any preparation, make your presence count by going to the podium to make a brief statement in support or in opposition of a particular variance and by mentioning others who may have spoken in a way that represents your opinion on the matter.
State Law gives the Zoning Board of Appeals the power to hear and decide appeals from decisions of officials charged with the administration and enforcement of zoning ordinances and local laws (including Town Code) and to interpret them, and to grant variances that may impose conditions.
The basic process is (1) application for a variance, (2) public notification of application, (3) public hearing, (4) determination. Read more about ZBA process in the boxed section in the top right column.
Public hearings are held every 2nd and 4th Thursday evening. Agendas are posted online. The ZBA holds a work session at approximately 6:30 pm during which they discuss the variance requests amongst themselves. The public may observe but not participate until the hearings begin at
7:00 pm in the same room. Read tips for participating in public hearings in the boxed section in the lower right column.
Riverhead’s ZBA consists of five members appointed to five-year terms by the Town Board (current board). Each year one member’s term expires and he or she may be reappointed or replaced. The Town Board appoints/ reappoints the Chairman and Vice Chairman on an annual basis. Currently, the Town Board does not require any particular experience or minimum qualifications for the ZBA members it appoints (see RNPC initiative). Once they begin serving, State Law requires they undergo four hours continuing education each year.
ZBA members don’t have offices at Town Hall. To contact
the ZBA, write a letter to them addressed to Town Hall
(200 Howell Avenue, Riverhead NY 11901) or contact
their secretary, Kim Fuentes at 631-727-3200 or email@example.com.
Meeting agendas contain very basic information. Address questions about variances and hearings to the ZBA’s Secretary, Kim Fuentes, at 631-727-3200 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You may be asked to submit a F.O.I.L. request for a particular document or to see the entire file. Submit your Application for Public Access to Records directly to the Town Clerk. The Town is required to respond to your F.O.I.L. request within five business days.
Get suggestions on how to prepare for a ZBA public hearing and what to expect during the hearing, see boxed section below.