In April 2015, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Center for Local Government Services published the Eleventh Edition of its ongoing Planning Series. Issue #6 specifically discusses Zoning Hearing Boards (ZHBs) and, in addition to the basic information about how their members are appointed and their responsibilities in the position, it offers some guidance for those who have the duty to appoint those members and for those who are looking to serve. The piece offers insight into those personal traits that a ZHB member should have.
As stated in the Planning Series, “The primary purpose of the zoning hearing board is to help assure fair and equitable application and administration of the zoning ordinance.” Impartiality among the ZHB members must occur both in appearance and in practice. As the ZHB functions in a quasi-judicial capacity, an applicant appearing before the board is guaranteed a constitutionally-protected right of due process. Such a fundamental right requires that the ZHB abides by due process standards and avoids the appearance of impropriety. According to the courts, “A showing of actual bias is unnecessary in order to assert a cognizable due process claim; the mere potential for bias or the appearance of non-objectivity may be sufficient to constitute a violation of that right.” Kuszyk v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of Amity Township, 834 A.2d 661, 665 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003).