In the town of Varick, area variances are heard by the ZBA. These usually have to do with the size, shape, or location of buildings. Use variances, which allow you to do things like have a business in a residential area, are heard first by the Planning Board.
All business (with a few limited exceptions) transacted by any governmental bodies in NY State (including a town’s ZBA) must be done in public. In addition, any consideration of a variance application must include an opportunity for the public to speak at the ZBA meeting, and offer their input and opinions on the matter. Notices of these public hearings appear in a local newspaper.
Town residents can speak in favor or against the application. They can even ask questions, and the applicant may respond with information important to the neighbors. The ZBA may make a decision at the same meeting, or it may choose to defer the decision to another meeting, sometimes pending the receipt of further information about the application or the property.
The ZBA is sometimes seen as the bad guy (usually by an applicant who is denied a variance) because it appears that the landowner is being denied his/her right to do what he/she wants with his/her own property. Sometimes the neighbors become unhappy with the ZBA because a variance is granted. The important thing to keep in mind is that the real purpose of the ZBA is to safeguard the rights of all of the townspeople to ensure that the long-term goals and vision of the Town are preserved. The ZBA tries to find creative “win-win” solutions so the applicant can achieve his/her goals while the Town avoids (or minimizes) any negative impacts on the community as a whole.
(copied and adapted from Town of Nelson's excellent ZBA summary. (2011))