Barnabei v. Chadds Ford Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 118 A.3d 17 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2015).

Under the relevant zoning ordinance, a venue for events was not an accessory use for a large mansion in which Applicants resided in only a small portion.
Case Details:

Appellants owned a large mansion located in the Township’s R-1 district and used it as their primary residence.  Living in only a portion of the home, Appellants began renting the first and second floors for catered events and sought permission from the Township Manager to host a music and food festival.  Ignoring requests from the Township to stop, Appellants continued using their home for events, and the Township eventually took legal action in the form of obtaining an injunction and issuing six citations to Appellants for hosting events.  Appellants appealed the citations and requested a special exception or variance in the alternative.

The Zoning Hearing Board denied all of Appellants’ requests.  The Zoning Hearing Board concluded that Appellants’ proposed use as a venue was not permitted by right.  Moreover, it was not permitted as an accessory use to the primary dwelling use because the commercial use was not secondary to Appellants’ residential use of the property. The Zoning Hearing Board also determined the proposed use was not a non-conforming use because “there was never a prior legal commercial use of the property.”  Finally, Appellants were not entitled to a variance because they did not establish an unnecessary hardship.  Such a hardship did not exist because evidence was not put forth indicating “the property could not be used as a single family residence or a bed and breakfast.”  Appellants appealed to the trial court which affirmed.

The Commonwealth Court affirmed for the reasons offered by the Zoning Hearing Board.  It went on, though, to conclude that Appellants could not rent out their property to the caterer to use as a venue because Appellants cannot grant a lessee more rights than they, themselves, have.

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