Markwest Liberty Midstream & Res., LLC v. Cecil Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd. Range Res. – Appalachia, LLC, 102 A.3d 549 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2014).
Thorough examination of the shifting burden of proof in a special exception proceeding.
Applicant operates gas compressor stations, and Applicant received a positive response from the Township and its Solicitor about building a natural gas compressor station in the Township. The Township’s Zoning Ordinance permitted compressor stations by special exception. Applicant applied to the Zoning Hearing Board for a special exception to construct and operate a compressor station at the approximate center of Applicant’s 15-acre property. The proposed facility would consist of up to eight engines and surrounding sound mitigation structures, dehydration facilities, tanks, a vapor recovery unit, a flare and associated piping. Applicant’s property is adjacent to Low and Medium Density Residential Districts, but no residence would be closer than 1,000 feet from the proposed facility. After holding hearings, the Zoning Hearing Board denied Applicant’s request because the proposed use would not “be of the same general character as other uses permitted in [a] Light Industrial District, and [because] its impact would [not] be equal to or less than other permitted uses.”
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court’s holding thereby overturning the Zoning Hearing Board’s denial. The Commonwealth Court reviewed the law as it relates to special exceptions. It then meticulously worked through the Zoning Hearing Board’s findings and the evidence provided. At each phase, the Commonwealth Court explained how Applicant met its burden. Moreover, the Commonwealth Court explained, by its clear terms, the Township’s ordinance did not place on the Applicant the burden of affirmatively proving the proposed facility’s operation would be less impactful that other uses permitted in the light industrial district.
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