Oasis v. Zoning Hearing Bd., 94 A.3d 457 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2014).

Limitations on grounds for denial of a special exception.
Case Details:

Applicant requested a special exception to develop a religious retreat on leased property.  The application stated that the maximum occupancy of the development would be 297 people. The plan included a building with overnight facilities for up to 93 guests.  The Zoning Hearing Board denied the application because it concluded the proposed retreat would be detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare, and because Applicant (1) did not adequately identify the proposed method of sewage disposal for the retreat and (2) did not submit an adequate emergency plan of access.

On appeal to the Commonwealth Court, the Commonwealth Court held the application should have been approved.  First, concerns with sewage disposal do not warrant disapproval, rather, that issue should have been addressed by the imposition of reasonable conditions.  Second, Applicant’s emergency access plan, under which it would prepare an emergency evacuation plan, train its employees and volunteers, provide a suitable entrance for first responders, and improve existing roadways, complied with what little guidance was provided in the zoning ordinance, which did not require a second means of access to the property as argued by Objectors.  Finally, a mere increase in traffic was not sufficient ground to deny the special exception, and Objectors’ concerns were speculative at best.  As a result, the Commonwealth Court ordered the decision reversed.

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