In re Appeal of Towamencin Twp. from the Decision, 42 A.3d 366 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2012).

Variances for silo, including communication antennas, that exceeded maximum permitted height were not use variances and were justified based on the potential effect on the continued economic viability of the farm if the variances were not granted.
Case Details:

Applicant owned property that was one of two remaining dairy farms in the area.  The property included a residence and fourteen other structures, including a 55-foot silo and an 80-foot silo.  The two existing silos were not sufficient to store Applicant’s corn so excess corn was stored in “hag bags” which is not the proper way to store corn for feed and which took up two acres of farmable land.  Applicant intended to request a variance for a 130-foot silo; however, AT&T reached out to Applicant because they needed to locate an antenna in the area.  AT&T convinced Applicant to reduce the silo to 120 feet to accommodate AT&T’s antennas.

The Applicant sought variances for the silo height and the inclusion of the antennas and an equipment shelter at the base of the silo.  No parties objected to the variance at the Zoning Hearing Board.  The Zoning Hearing Board granted what it considered to be dimensional variances.  The Township appealed, arguing that the requests were more akin to use variances (and its stricter standards) than dimensional variances because the variances were not a “reasonable adjustment, but a substantial variation from the zoning code….”

The Commonwealth Court found that Applicant demonstrated through substantial evidence the economic detriment it would face if the variances were denied.  For example, Applicant would face a significant financial hardship due to constructing multiple silos to be in strict compliance with the zoning requirements.  Moreover, the farm’s continued operation would help maintain the character of the surrounding neighborhood and was supported by all neighbors.  Consequently, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the Zoning Hearing Board’s decision that the variances were correctly granted.

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