Atherton Dev. Co. v. Twp. of Ferguson, 29 A.3d 1197 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2011)
Peninsula of land zoned residential surrounded on one side by commercial and residential zoning, on a second side by commercial zoning and a third side by residential zoning was not subject of reverse spot zoning.
Landowner filed a validity challenge to the Township’s Zoning Map, contesting the residential zoning classification of a portion of its property. Landowner alleged reverse spot zoning and sought to have the relevant portion of its property rezoned commercial. The Township held hearings on the validity challenge and the Board of Supervisors issued a decision rejecting Landowner’s validity challenge. The Board of Supervisors found that the Landowner’s property was bounded to one side by commercial and residential zones, to another by residential only, and to a third by commercial only. The Board also made several legal conclusions supporting its determination that reverse spot zoning had not occurred and that Landowner’s challenge should be denied.
The Commonwealth Court defined “spot zoning” as the “unreasonable or arbitrary classification of a small parcel of land, dissected or set apart from surrounding properties, with no reasonable basis for the differential zoning.” Conversely, it stated “reverse spot zoning” “occurs where an ‘island’ develops as a result of a municipality’s failure to rezone a portion of land to bring it into conformance with similar surrounding parcels that are indistinguishable.” The Court cited precedent established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Commonwealth Court, itself, to determine that reverse spot zoning had not occurred because evidence did not show that the property was only suitable for commercial purposes; rather, evidence showed it could be used in a manner consistent with its residential classification.
Of note, the Court quoted the trial court with respect to extending the “peninsula” theory from spot zoning to reverse spot zoning:
While Pennsylvania case law has established that a peninsula, in addition to an island, may constitute spot zoning in the appropriate case, the law is silent as to whether or not a peninsula may form the basis for a claim of reverse spot zoning. [T]he cases cited by [Landowner] to support its claim that reverse spot zoning may involve a peninsula were cases where the parcel had been subjected to spot zoning and not reverse spot zoning. In short, case law does not directly address whether or not reverse spot zoning may be claimed when the tract in question forms a peninsula, rather than an island.
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