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What happens at a "hearing"?
Old 07-20-2013, 11:58 AM   #1
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What happens at a "hearing"?

The residential community where I live is zoned residential. A neighbor near to me wants to get an exception to open a small business in her house, which will have regular customers coming and going. The county is having a hearing in about a week to discuss possibly allowing this exception for her. I have mixed feelings about this, mostly related to parking along the street and I know of at least one other neighbor who also wants to also open a business. My questions are about what happens at the hearing. I imagine it is a forum where the lady gets to present her case for why the exception should be allowed and any other interested parties can present their case, either supporting her or asking for her request to be denied. Everybody is allowed to speak, and the decider (don't know if it is a judge or some other county official) makes his/her decision. Not sure if the decision is made then or not. I'm actually thinking about attending, if for no other reason to learn about what happens at a hearing and to hear what is said. Not planning to present a case, but depending on what is said, I want to have a opportunity to speak. Can you attend a hearing if you don't say anything? And if you do want to present a case, do you have to let them know ahead of time?
For those more experienced, are my assumptions about the process correct? Anything else I should know. Thanks.
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Old 07-20-2013, 12:05 PM   #2
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Your assumptions are reasonable, but I would suggest you contact the staff of the organization conducting the hearing for more detail. That would likely be a zoning board (staff would be city planning department in all likelihood). Some places it may be the council or a board of exceptions having the hearing. I'd still start with the local planning department; they usually prepare agendas and give advice to parties like you for such events. Good luck. I'd suggest if you are serious the more you can get to show up in support of your side the better. Also, boards cannot make these decisions for no reason. Find out what things are most important in the rules/regs of the jurisdiction; public safety (parking), out of character with local use, traffic, etc. and concentrate on those in your remarks.
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Old 07-20-2013, 12:09 PM   #3
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We have spoken at hearings on proposed changes. We needed to just sign in at the beginning of the hearing as we intended to speak. Before the hearing we read all the paperwork about the hearing, both what had been submitted and the relevant ordinances about the situation. We prepared ahead of time what we expected to say. We could also send a written statement to the board ahead of time, but since the decisions were made right away, those needed to be submitted well ahead of time so the board members would have time to read them. I think you definitely need to attend and be ready to speak even if you decide not to after hearing what other people have to say.
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Old 07-20-2013, 12:23 PM   #4
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I know a lady who opened a hair salon in an old house in a residential neighborhood. The house was on a corner lot and she was required to pour a concrete parking lot on part of the lot so customers weren't parking on the street.
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Old 07-20-2013, 01:00 PM   #5
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Have you talked with this neighbor and shared your questions/concerns?

The reason I ask is that I have a variance hearing in a few weeks and I just today reached out to my neighbor to see if he had received the mailing from the town and whether he had any questions or concerns. He had one question/concern that I walked him through what we planned to do and he indicates that given my response that he has no objections. I suspect that he won't even bother to attend the variance hearing.
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Old 07-20-2013, 01:10 PM   #6
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Our neighbors (in a 1.5 million dollar house) run a dance studio. It has been a nightmare as more and more people show up on more on more days of the week blocking mailboxes and driveways, setting off car alarms, leaving trash in the street. Someone finally complained to the authorities and the neighbor now claims it is a "dance ministry" and is protected under some obscure law protecting a right to worship.

Be careful of what you start.
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Old 07-20-2013, 01:13 PM   #7
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Be careful of what you start.
+1

I would suggest you speak out in opposition to the proposed business. Once you open Pandora's box...
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Old 07-20-2013, 01:21 PM   #8
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Our neighbors (in a 1.5 million dollar house) run a dance studio. It has been a nightmare as more and more people show up on more on more days of the week blocking mailboxes and driveways, setting off car alarms, leaving trash in the street. Someone finally complained to the authorities and the neighbor now claims it is a "dance ministry" and is protected under some obscure law protecting a right to worship.
In all probability, I'm guessing that said neighbor is charging people for their 'dance ministry'. That would decidedly make it a for-profit enterprise. Not to mention they are probably taking a deduction for depreciating part of their house on their income taxes.

If I were you, I'd ask the local municipality to contact the IRS to see if the neighbor is declaring any such income/expenses/depreciation...which would certainly challenge their claim that it's a 'dance ministry'. If they aren't declaring any income from a dance business, I'd certainly then have the IRS investigate the matter. I highly doubt they are having so many people over just for the fun of it.

But even so, just any old 'church' can't open up in anyplace - it should meet the proper zoning for such an establishment's activities.
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Old 07-20-2013, 02:24 PM   #9
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In all probability, I'm guessing that said neighbor is charging people for their 'dance ministry'. That would decidedly make it a for-profit enterprise. Not to mention they are probably taking a deduction for depreciating part of their house on their income taxes.

If I were you, I'd ask the local municipality to contact the IRS to see if the neighbor is declaring any such income/expenses/depreciation...which would certainly challenge their claim that it's a 'dance ministry'. If they aren't declaring any income from a dance business, I'd certainly then have the IRS investigate the matter. I highly doubt they are having so many people over just for the fun of it.

But even so, just any old 'church' can't open up in anyplace - it should meet the proper zoning for such an establishment's activities.
I've discussed this with a neighbor who is also a township official. Given that the neighbor with the studio is 1) loaded and 2) a lawyer, the township doesn't want to go down the legal route as they recently got defeated on another church in a house lawsuit.

Hijack over.
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Old 07-20-2013, 07:46 PM   #10
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Also remember its probably a public hearing, so they have to accommodate as many people that want to attend whether they want to speak or not.
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Old 07-20-2013, 09:19 PM   #11
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Good advice so far. I have personal experience with three levels of these things. In increasing complexity:

1) We get a notice in the mail - our neighbor at the time (who keeps to himself, no problems, but we hardly know him) wants a zoning variance. I'm thinking, oh no, this is trouble. I look at the enclosed drawing, and it was such a minor little thing, a little fence for a dog run, right against his porch, so it almost looks like the guard rail for the porch (fences are verboten in our village). I would not have even thought about asking permission, I would have just done it. A date for the hearing was enclosed, I didn't bother to show up, and the fence went in a bit later.

2) I attended a meeting for another purpose, and they just happened to have a zoning hearing that night. A long established, family owned business was making a major expansion. They had a good relationship with the community and their neighbors, and they had met with all the neighbors to discuss the expansion, and the steps they were taking to lessen any impact on neighbors before, during and after the construction. Not a single person showed up to complain. The expansion went in, and it looks great, and it is a plus for the community.

3) Another major project has been proposed. It was adversarial and nasty from the start. It's been headache after headache, and hasn't been settled after over 15 years of fighting and endless boring meetings. Argggghhhhhh!

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Old 07-20-2013, 09:24 PM   #12
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Also remember its probably a public hearing, so they have to accommodate as many people that want to attend whether they want to speak or not.
Yes! Do not let them bully you on this!

On the adversarial one I just posted, this was an issue several times. They actually tried scheduling meetings at odd times on short (but legal, I guess) notice. If the room is full enough that they turn people away for fire codes or whatever, or people spill out into hallways and cannot hear or see presentations, it is NOT a legal hearing!

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Old 07-21-2013, 07:00 AM   #13
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I went to one zoning exception hearing about 15 years ago. A guy around the corner wanted to open an office cleaning business. Basically what he wanted to do was have the office in his basement, but keep nothing else there - no trucks, no staff, no stores of cleaning chemicals, nothing on the outside.

The zoning exception was approved and to my knowledge there was no increase in traffic or anything else except, perhaps, for the mail carrier.
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Old 07-21-2013, 11:56 AM   #14
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I went to one zoning exception hearing about 15 years ago. A guy around the corner wanted to open an office cleaning business. Basically what he wanted to do was have the office in his basement, but keep nothing else there - no trucks, no staff, no stores of cleaning chemicals, nothing on the outside.

The zoning exception was approved and to my knowledge there was no increase in traffic or anything else except, perhaps, for the mail carrier.
I'm surprised that he needed a variance for a home office under those circumstances (no staff). Odd.
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Old 07-22-2013, 06:55 AM   #15
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I'm surprised that he needed a variance for a home office under those circumstances (no staff). Odd.
I'm not sure why either. I went to the hearing more out of curiosity and to make sure that he wasn't going to pave over his yard for parking or something. But since all he wanted was to have his office there neither I or anyone else cared.

The requirement for a hearing was because it did change the use of the property from strictly residential to partly business. Requiring the hearing is not a bad thing since the nature of a home-run business, like the dance studio another poster mentioned, may or may not impact the neighbors depending on size of the property, availability of parking, traffic, and a bunch of other things.
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