Ligo v. Slippery Rock Township, 936 A.2d 1236 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2007).

Township approved a planned residential development that was consistent with the Township’s Comprehensive Plan and met the specific provisions of the Zoning Ordinance that were applicable to PRDs.
Case Details:

Developer submitted an application for a Planned Residential Development (PRD) to be known as Slippery Rock Quadrangle, which would consist of nineteen residential buildings, a clubhouse and a maintenance building containing 244 dwelling units to house Slippery Rock University students.  Under the Zoning Ordinance, a PRD did not have to meet standards of usual zoning districts, to permit flexibility in the design of large developments in order to promote the most appropriate use of the land. The design of the Quadrangle was to highlight the University and blend in with the surrounding areas.  Developer sought a modification from the density requirements of the Zoning Ordinance.  The modification was granted and the PRD approved.  The Township Supervisors explained several reasons why the Quadrangle was consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

Appellants appealed the approval of the PRD, and the trial court dismissed all of Appellants objections.  Appellants appealed to the Commonwealth Court arguing PRDs are conditional uses that must satisfy all requirements of a Zoning Ordinance.  Appellants first argued that the minimum frontage and buffer requirements were not met because there should have been a three feet per unit buffer around the entire PRD, which would have essentially required a 732 foot buffer.  The Commonwealth Court agreed with Developer’s argument that the Zoning Ordinance did not require a per foot setback based on the number of units.  Rather, the setback requirements in the Zoning Ordinance applied to each building.  The Commonwealth Court also found that the PRD section of the Zoning Ordinance had its own provision for determining open space, setbacks and peripheral space, and that the proposed PRD met the requirements therein.

Appellants next argued that the PRD was required to have a mixture of housing types, and that single-family dwellings were required to be the primary use.  The Commonwealth Court found that there was a goal of encouraging multiple types of housing in PRDs, but there was no requirement, and that the PRDs were focused on flexibility and appropriate use of land.

Appellants next claimed that the PRD would be ten times more dense than what was allowed by the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance.  The Court pointed out that the Developer applied for and was granted a modification of the density requirements, and stated that Comprehensive Plans were not mandatory.  Also, the applicable section of the Zoning Ordinance used the term “dwelling,” which included all types of buildings, rather than “dwelling unit,” which was defined as a building or portion of a building used by a single family.  Therefore, the Court found that the PRD was allowed to have eight buildings per acre, rather than eight units per acre as Appellants argued.

Appellants’ final argument was that the PRD did not comply with the requirement that density decrease from the interior to the exterior.  The Court found that the PRD did not comply, the ordinance did not mandate that the density decrease from the inside out, but only that it should “generally” do so.  Here, the proposed PRD was less dense near the community with natural buffers between the University and the surrounding uses in the community.

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