Citation:

Sutliff Enterprises, Inc. v. Silver Spring Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 933 A.2d. 1079 (Pa. Commw. 2007).

Summary:
The use of an oscillating searchlight used to attract customers to a business was specifically prohibited by a Township Zoning Ordinance.
Case Details:

In July 2006, a Landowner of two car dealerships in the Township, requested a written determination from the Township Zoning Officer as to whether the use of portable searchlights at his dealerships would be permissible under the Township Zoning Ordinance (Ordinance).  Landowner explained that the lights would not be a permanent fixture and would be used occasionally to attract attention to sales and events at the dealerships.  Landowner requested a specific determination as to whether or not the searchlights constituted a “sign” under the Ordinance.  The Zoning Officer determined that the searchlights were not permitted.  Landowner appealed to the ZHB.  A hearing was conducted in September, and the Board concluded that the searchlights constituted signs under the Ordinance.  In addition, “rotating or oscillating signs,” such as these searchlights, were expressly prohibited by Section 313.2.8.A.  The nature of the searchlight also conflicted with Section 313.2.6, which required floodlights or spotlights to be shielded to prevent the transmission of light to other properties.

Landowner appealed to the trial court, which dismissed the appeal in March 2007.  The trial court found that searchlights constituted a prohibited sign because Landowner’s purpose in using them was to attract business.  Landowner appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court erred as a matter of law and/or abused its discretion.

The Court noted that Section 112.C of the Ordinance defines “sign” as “a device for visual communication that is used to bring the subject to the attention of the public.”  In addition, the Court noted that the ZHB and the trial court properly concluded that the searchlights were prohibited by Sections 313.2.8.A and 313.2.6 of the Ordinance.  Furthermore, Landowner admitted that the purpose of the oscillating lights was to attract attention to his dealerships.  The Court also recognized that the lights would be mounted on a movable trailer on the dealership.  Based on Landowner’s purpose for using the searchlights and the prohibition of oscillating signs under the Ordinance, the Court found no error or abuse of discretion and affirmed the order of the trial court.

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