The powers of the board are limited to three specific subject matter areas: determining appeals from administrative decisions of the zoning administrator, granting or denying applications for variances, and granting or denying applications for special exceptions.
The board has the exclusive power to hear and decide appeals where it is alleged the zoning administrator, in the enforcement of the zoning ordinance, erred in an order, requirement, decision or determination. In such cases, the board may reverse or affirm, wholly or in part, or may modify the order, requirements, decision or determination of the zoning administrator. The board has all the powers of the zoning administrator in such cases and may issue or direct the issuance of a permit.
When deciding an administrative appeal from a decision of the zoning administrator, the board is not bound by the conclusion or reasoning of the zoning administrator and may consider and apply the appropriate provisions of the zoning ordinance as dictated by the facts before it. Clear Channel Outdoor v. City of Myrtle Beach, 360 S.C. 459, 602 S.E.2d 76 (Ct. App. 2004)(BZA not restricted on appeal to denial of billboard permit on sole basis offered by zoning administrator).
The board has the power to hear and decide appeals (requests) for variances when strict application of the zoning ordinance would result in unnecessary hardship.
A variance allows the board to modify an otherwise legitimate zoning restriction when, due to unusual conditions, the restriction may be more burdensome than was intended. The variance must not impair the public purpose. To obtain a variance on the ground of unnecessary hardship, there must at least be proof that a particular property suffers a singular disadvantage through the operation of a zoning regulation. An owner is not entitled to relief from a self-created or self-inflicted hardship. A claim of unnecessary hardship cannot be based on conditions created by the owner nor can one who purchases property after the enactment of a zoning regulation complain that the nonconforming use would work a hardship upon him.
When deciding whether to grant or deny a variance, the board has some discretion; however, the board is not free to make whatever determination appeals to its sense of justice. The board must apply the standards prescribed by the zoning ordinance and the 1994 State Planning Act. Courts will not uphold a decision of the board to grant or deny a variance based on errors of law, fraud or lack of supporting evidence, or a board action that is arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory or an abuse of discretion.
The board may grant a variance in an individual case of unnecessary hardship if the board makes and explains in writing all of the following findings.
Other factors applicable to a variance also are prescribed by S.C. Code.
The board of appeals has the exclusive power to permit uses by special exception subject to standards and conditions in the zoning ordinance. The zoning ordinance must include the standards and conditions the board must follow when considering such appeals. Standards and conditions for special exceptions could relate to access, noise, screening, lighting, compatibility with adjoining uses and traffic generation. In some zoning ordinances, conditional uses granted after review should be designated as special exceptions.
Appeals to the board and appeals from decisions of the board must follow the prescribed procedures. Appeals from administrative actions and decisions of the zoning administrator are taken to the board of zoning appeals, then to circuit court and finally to the state appellate courts. An appeal from an administrative decision of the zoning administrator is never taken to the governing body. Except for appeals of board decisions on use variances, appeals from decisions of the BZA on variances or special exceptions also are taken to circuit court and finally to the state appellate courts.