Fisher v. Viola, Jr.,et al. 789 A.2d 782, Commonwealth Court (November 30, 2001)

Lot size requirements may be used to regulate density of population and intensity of use but must be reasonable so as to keep the lot size economically feasible.
Case Details:

Note: Appeal Denied

Cross Reference MPC Section 603 – U.S.C.A. Const. Amend. 14: Const. Art. 1 Section 9;

Residents of Cranberry Township, Butler County filed substantive challenges to newly enacted zoning, subdivision and land development ordinances. The ordinances, which included restrictions on lot sizes and slope, grade and impermeability restrictions were enacted to implement the comprehensive plan, which addressed concerns arising out of the tremendous growth in both residential and non-residential land uses in the township since the early 1980s. The Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) upheld the validity of the township’s land use ordinances, ruling that the ordinances properly regulated density and the rate and character of the community’s development and represented a legitimate exercise of police power. The ZHB specifically identified justifications for restrictions on lot sizes. On appeal, the trial court affirmed the ZHB’s decision without taking further testimony.

In this case, the residents raised four issues on appeal to the Commonwealth Court:

(1) whether the terms of the ordinances were unconstitutionally vague;
(2) whether the increases in minimum lot sizes to 1.25 acres (for lots with public sewage) and 1.5 acres for lots without public sewage) was arbitrary, capricious or unrelated to the public health, safety and welfare,
(3) whether the ordinances were exclusionary by virtue of the fact that an increase in minimum lot size results in “less affordable” lots which result is in violation of the due process and equal protection guarantees of the state and federal constitutions and the privileges and immunities clause of the federal constitution, and
(4) whether changes relating to slopes, grades and impermeability are reasonable and necessary exercises of police power.

The Commonwealth Court held that MPC Section 603 allows ordinances to determine density of population and intensity of use. Only lot sizes exceeding two acres require extraordinary justification relating to the public interest. Affordability or maximum profitability is not an issue when determining an ordinance’s constitutionality. Lot size restrictions are not exclusionary so long as use of the lots is not economically impossible. Regulatory ordinances do not have to be supported by studies to establish a nexus between the lot size and the public’s health, safety and welfare, so long as the ordinances are consistent with the comprehensive plan which extensively sets out the community’s goals. Regulation of slope, grade and impermeability are reasonable to promote preservation of the environment and to protect against erosion and landslide problems. And, ordinances which specifically provide which types of property require a conditional use permit, the application procedure, the criteria to be followed in the grant or denial of a permit and which provide that the criteria of the MPC governs the process are not unconstitutionally vague.

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