Solebury Township v. Solebury Township Zoning Hearing Board, 914 A.2d 972 (Pa. Cmwth. 2007).

A variance is justified when the natural conditions of the land prevent reasonable development.
Case Details:

Landowners purchased a 3.23-acre lot in a Residential Zone that was also within the Steep Slope Conservation Overlay District and adjacent to a Historic District.  Due to the setback and buffer requirements applicable to the lot, the Landowners could not construct a residence without seeking a variance.  In the application for the variance, the Landowners testified that a driveway could not be constructed due to the property’s topography and that the proposed design of the house was comparable to other homes in the area.  Landowners further testified that they knew that a variance would be needed when they purchased the property, and that they risked overpaying for the property if the variances were not granted.

The Zoning Hearing Board granted the variances because it found that the natural features of the property prevented the reasonable use of the property without the variances.  The Board also found that the Landowner’s hardship was not self-inflicted merely by purchasing the property knowing that a variance would be necessary to build their house.  The trial court affirmed and held that the hardship was not self-inflicted because it arose from the property’s natural conditions, not the purchase.  Also, the topography of the property made it impossible to develop without a variance.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed and reiterated that “pre-purchase knowledge of zoning restrictions limiting development, without more, does not create a hardship;” rather, the right to relief runs with the land when the hardship arises from the topography of the property.  Here, the hardship resulted from the natural conditions of the land and the purchasers were entitled to a variance.

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