Citation:

Hoffman Mining Company, Inc. v. Zoning Hearing Board of Adams Township, 958 A.2d 602 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008).

Summary:
Landowners applied for a variance to conduct surface mining within 300 feet of residences because the local ordinance required a setback of 1000 feet, and Landowners also argued that the ordinance was preempted by state law. The Commonwealth Court found that the local ordinance was not preempted because it regulated land use which is within the power of the local municipality and the landowners were not entitled to a variance because they did not show that there was no other reasonable use of the land.
Case Details:

Hoffman leased an 182 acre tract of land and submitted an application for a variance to allow surface mining within 300 feet of residences.  The applicable zoning ordinance required a 1000 foot setback from residences for surface mining.  Hoffman claimed that the ordinance was preempted by the Surface Mining Conversation and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), which required only a 300 foot setback from residences.  Three separate hearings were held before the Board.  At these hearings, an engineer testified that there would be sufficient erosion control and storm water management, that the noise and lights would be kept to a minimum and that no drilling or blasting would take place in the evenings. Engineers also testified that after the mining was complete, the property would be restored, and that the entire process of mining and restoring would take about four years.  The business manager of Hoffman testified that without the Township setback, $9 million worth of coal could be mined; however, if the setback was imposed, only $900,000 worth of coal could be mined.  Many residents expressed concern over the safety of children playing in the area, blasting related damages to the homes, noise and storm water problems.

The Board found that the ordinance was not preempted by the SMCRA. The Board also found that there was substantial health, safety, and welfare issues which weigh against a 300 foot setback.  Therefore, the Board denied the request for a variance. Hoffman appealed to the trial court, which dismissed the appeal and affirmed the Board’s decision.  Hoffman then appealed to the Commonwealth Court.  Hoffman argued that the SMCRA preempts the ordinance and pointed out the provision in the SMRCA that provides “[t]he Commonwealth by this enactment hereby preempts the regulation of surface mining as herein.”  Therefore, Hoffman argued that the ordinance is specifically preempted.

To determine if a state statute preempts local regulation, it must be clearly shown that the General Assembly intended to preempt the field by its legislation.  There is a presumption against preemption because what may be preempted is the ability of the municipality to address the needs of its citizens. The Commonwealth Court specifically examined whether the SMCRA expressly preempted all zoning regulations enacted after the adoption of the SMCRA because Hoffman argued that only zoning ordinances adopted prior to the SMCRA were not preempted. The Commonwealth Court also reviewed other cases involving preemption and found that the zoning ordinances that regulate traditional zoning subjects are not preempted.  Therefore, the Commonwealth Court found that the ordinance at issue here was not preempted because it contains a regulation of distance from which surface mining may be conducted next to a residential structure, and that this is land use control that should not be preempted.

Alternatively, Hoffman argued that it is entitled to a variance because without it, the zoning regulation would amount to a confiscation and the variance is necessary to permit reasonable use of the land.  However, Hoffman did not present any other evidence that the property could not be used for anything else if it could not be used to mine coal.  Further, the potential effect on the health, safety and welfare would weigh against the reduction of the 1000 foot setback.  Thus, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the denial of the variance.

Date of Decision: 10/15/08

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