About Zoning and the ZBA
The Wilton Zoning Ordinance regulates the use of property in the Town of Wilton - what it can be used for, and what restrictions must be followed. The Zoning Ordinance is part of the Town of Wilton Zoning Regulations, which you can purchase at the Town Offices.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) is the town board which is responsible for applying and interpreting the Zoning Ordinance.
The Zoning Ordinance divides the town into “Zoning Districts,” each with its own regulations. Specific property uses are permitted in each Zoning District, subject to particular restrictions. (For example, you can have a house in the Residential District, or a store in the Commercial District.) You don’t need to deal with the ZBA at all for a permitted use that meets all the zoning requirements, although there may be other requirements to satisfy, such as a building permit from the Building Inspector, site plan approval from the Planning Board, or a license from some state agency.
Some uses are “permitted by special exception.” This means that the use is permitted by the Ordinance, but only after the ZBA has considered it and found that it meets some list of specific requirements. For example, schools and churches are permitted by special exception in the Residential District.
Other uses are forbidden, either because they arent listed in the Ordinance as permitted uses (for example, having a restaurant in the Residential District), or because they violate some explicit restriction in the Ordinance (for example, building a building too close to the street). When the Ordinance unreasonably restricts an owner’s use of his or her property, as a result of unique characteristics of the property, without a compelling benefit to the Town, the ZBA can grant a “variance,” which sets aside specific requirements of the Ordinance in response to particular circumstances.
When some past construction or subdivision turns out to violate the ordinance as the result of a good-faith error (not from ignorance of the ordinance or failure to check relevant restrictions), the ZBA can grant an “equitable waiver.”
A use which would normally be forbidden, but which has been in existence since before the Ordinance forbade it, is called a “nonconforming” or “grandfathered” use. Most nonconforming uses may continue unchanged, but an increase or change in a nonconforming use may forfeit its grandfathered status.
Besides deciding about special exceptions, variances, and equitable waivers, the ZBA is also the interpreter of the Zoning Ordinance. When another town official or board makes a decision based on an interpretation of the Zoning Ordinance, that interpretation may be appealed to the ZBA.