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Boards of Zoning Appeals: One Way Neighbors Can Impact Nearby Development Projects

Posted December 21, 2021
3:24 pm

When a real estate developer plans a project, like a mall, restaurant, or apartment building, they check if their plans match local zoning laws. If they do not, then the developer can ask for an exception. This exception is called a “zoning variance”. The developer asks for a zoning variance by applying to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA).

Any city, county, or township that has its own zoning laws also has a BOZA. Cleveland has a BOZA with five members appointed by the mayor. The City of Lorain’s BOZA includes the City’s Safety Service Director and four residents appointed by the mayor. Painesville’s BOZA has five members appointed by Council.

BOZAs meet regularly to review zoning variance requests. The meetings are open to the public. At the meeting, the developer explains why they need the variance. Neighbors can tell the BOZA how the development affects them. The BOZA may deny the variance if it will hurt the neighborhood.

Neighbors can challenge a BOZA decision it in court if they participated in the meeting. Participating means speaking about how the variance hurts them or writing letters for others to read. Right now, the Cleveland BOZA holds meetings on WebEx. Those who want to speak must sign up in advance.

Neighbors can find out about variance requests for developments in at least two ways.

First, they can attend BOZA meetings or, if available, check the BOZA agenda. Under Ohio law, a BOZA must give the public advance notice of their meetings. BOZAs commonly provide this notice by publishing a meeting calendar on their website. The Cleveland and Lorain BOZAs publish their agendas on their websites. The agendas identify by address the variances the BOZA will discuss.

Second, neighbors who live next to the development should get a notice. BOZA must send notice to people who own property next to a project seeking a variance. The notice must give the date of the meeting about that variance. BOZA must send the notice at least seven days before the meeting.

The BOZA is open to all and should offer a place for local government to learn the opinions of both residents and developers about projects.

This article was published in Legal Aid's newsletter, "The Alert" Volume 37, Issue 2, in Winter 2021. See full issue at this link: “The Alert” – Volume 37, Issue 2 – Legal Aid Society of Cleveland (

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