Seeking a ZBA Variance? First, Raise Your Right Hand

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By Christine Sampson

Applicants coming before the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals will now have to raise their right hands and swear an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when making their case for variances.

It’s a practice the ZBA officially put into place on Tuesday, following in the footsteps of the Southampton Town ZBA.

Presumably applicants were telling the truth already, Sag Harbor ZBA chairman Tim McGuire said Tuesday. However, he said, the board decided to begin swearing in people because it wanted to “remind” them of this responsibility.

“We’ve noticed that some of the testimony that we get is not complete,” he said, “and we’ve had testimony that we think is knowingly false.”

Of a municipality’s regulatory boards, only a zoning board of appeals has the power to legally swear in people, as opposed to boards such as an historic preservation and architectural review board or a planning board. That’s because a zoning board is a “quasi-judiciary” board that is, by law, afforded some of the same privileges and protections that a court receives. For instance, individual ZBA members cannot be sued, just as individual judges cannot be sued, unless a plaintiff can prove he or she has been a victim of discrimination. Zoning boards can also call witnesses.

Swearing in will also apply to members of the public who wish to comment during hearings. Swearing in will not apply to attorneys, who have already taken such an oath in the normal course of their business in the court system.

Also, in cases in which an applicant is asking for a variance retroactively for part of a building that has already been built or which is preexisting and nonconforming, the ZBA will, from now on, ask the actual applicant to be present at the meeting to explain the situation, rather than having an architect, attorney or other representative there instead.

“We want to send a message that once a building permit is issued and set to a specific set of plans that those are followed rigorously,” Mr. McGuire said during Tuesday’s meeting.

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