Ethan-Michael, Inc. v. Union Twp. Bd. of Supervisors, 918 A.2d 203 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007).

Non-agricultural conditional and accessory uses do not undercut the validity of a Zoning Ordinance enacted to preserve active and productive agricultural lands.
Case Details:

The Owner of a 518-acre parcel zoned for Agricultural Preservation (AP) sought approval for 388 single-family detached dwellings on one-acre lots. The proposal was not possible under the AP zoning, which sought to protect viable farm land from fragmentation. Owner filed a substantive challenge to the Zoning Ordinance with a proposed curative amendment to eliminate in its entirety the section of the Zoning Ordinance, defining the maximum number of single family dwellings permitted on the land, because the provisions were de facto and de jure exclusionary and not substantially related to the Township’s police power.

The Zoning Hearing Officer determined that the provisions were not exclusionary; that they served the stated police power of protection of agriculture; that the legislative judgment did not violate substantive due process; that the non-agricultural uses permitted by conditional uses and special exception in the AP were not fatal to the overall purpose of the AP zone; and that the Township did not have a specific intent to harm Owner when it enacted the Zoning Ordinance.

The Hearing Officer did agree with Owner, however, that certain restrictions in the section were too burdensome and restrictive to accomplish its stated purpose and that those provisions should be severed from the Zoning Ordinance, pursuant to the Zoning Ordinance’s severance clause.  The trial court affirmed. Owner appealed to the Commonwealth Court. On appeal, Owner renewed its previous arguments.

The Commonwealth Court affirmed and held that the stated purpose of the Zoning Ordinance was a valid exercise of the police power and the fact that some non-agricultural uses may be permitted does not fatally undercut the substantial relation of the Zoning Ordinance to its stated goal. Additionally, the court held that severability is preferred over a curative amendment and that the Hearing Officer committed no error in his decision to invalidate certain portions of the Zoning Ordinance while sustaining the Zoning Ordinance in general.

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