In Re Realen Valley Forge Greenes Associates, 799 A.2d 938

Parcel Size May Support Zoning Designation; Uses Prescribed in the Zoning Ordinance Prevail if in Conflict with Uses Recommended in a Comprehensive Plan; Zoning Hearing Board Determines Weight and Credibility of Witnesses.
Case Details:

Note: Reversed by in re Realen Valley Forge Greens Associates, 838 A.2d 718

Cross reference- MPC Sections 909.1, 916.1(a)

The owner of a 135 acre parcel, zoned Agricultural, upon which is located a privately-owned golf club, challenged the validity of the township’s zoning ordinance, contending the AG zoning was unlawful spot zoning, was arbitrary and irrational and constituted unlawful special legislation. The surrounding parcels are zoned in a variety of ways which reflect the changing, urban development of the area. The Zoning Hearing Board conducted extensive hearings, heard from each party’s expert land use witnesses and issued an order denying the challenge. The Board concluded that the ordinance provided for various reasonable and legitimate uses of the parcel and the zoning reflected consideration of public health, safety, and morals. The Board found no evidence of spot zoning or special legislation. The trial court affirmed the Board’s findings.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reviewed the ordinance which permitted four uses by right, eleven uses by special exception, and two uses through conditional use application in an Agricultural district. The Court held that the Board was the finder of fact which determines the credibility and weight of a witness’ testimony. The Board may reject even uncontradicted testimony if it is found to be lacking credibility. The township’s land planning expert’s testimony that the property could be used either through the special exception or the conditional uses was substantial evidence to support the Board’s finding that the zoning permitted alternative viable development.

The Court held that an ordinance is not unreasonable when it requires compliance with the comprehensive plan as part of the procedure for procuring permission for a special exception or conditional use. Although the township’s comprehensive plan provides a utilization for the applicant’s parcel which is seemingly in contradiction with the special exceptions and conditional uses allowed in the district, the contradiction is not unreasonable. When there is a conflict between the uses enumerated in an ordinance and the utilization recommendation contained in the comprehensive plan, the uses listed in the ordinance prevail because the ordinance is regulatory in nature.

The Court noted that the parcel was the fifth largest tract in the township and considerably larger than the surrounding properties and held that its size was a distinguishing characteristic which supported it’s zoning designation and defeated the allegation of spot zoning. Furthermore, the state of mind of the legislative body in enacting a zoning ordnance is irrelevant to a determination of its validity.

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