Elizabethtown/Mt. Joy Associates, L.P. v. Mount Joy Township Zoning Hearing Board, 2007 Pa. LEXIS 542 (Pa. Commw. 2007).

Where an applicant fails to meet all requirements for a special exception, a zoning hearing board has no duty to grant a special exception application with conditions.
Case Details:

Developer owned two adjoining tracts in the Limited Commercial District (C-1) in Mount Joy Township.  Developer filed an application pursuant to Section 135-122.C of the Township Zoning Ordinance (Ordinance) with the ZHB for a special exception to build a shopping center on his property in the C-1 District.  Section 135-122.C permits a shopping center as special exception use if the application meets all of the specific requirements in the Ordinance.  The initial plan submitted exceeded the square footage requirements, and a revised plan was submitted without being properly signed or certified by the Developer.

The ZHB held eight hearings on the application between October and March 2006.  Based on evidence presented at the hearings, the ZHB issued ninety-eight findings of fact in support of its conclusion that the Developer’s plan failed to comply with all specific and general requirements under for a special exception under the Ordinance Sections 135-122.C, 135-187.D, and 135- 283.D.  The Developer’s plan was deficient in several areas, including transportation considerations, exterior lighting, design, etc.  The ZHB further concluded that applications for special exceptions must provide a sufficiently detailed plan in order to demonstrate compliance.  The application was denied on May 3, 2006.  The trial court affirmed the ZHB’s denial, and the Developer appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

The Court acknowledged that special exception applications are to be granted on a case-by-case basis according to the standards and criteria set forth in the applicable township zoning ordinance.  In order for the ZHB to grant the application, the plan, as submitted, must comply with the specific ordinance requirements at the time the plan comes before it.  A merely conceptual plan or a promise for future compliance with the Ordinance requirements do not constitute sufficient evidence on which the ZHB must grant a special exception.  The Court stated that there is no duty for a ZHB to grant a special exception with conditions.  Based on these conclusions of law and the record established in the lower courts, the Court held that the ZHB did not err in denying the Developer’s application.

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