Steeley v. Richland Twp.,
875 A.2d 409 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005)
A Township acquired open space property from a developer in exchange for granting the developer relief from building density restrictions. Subsequently, Township negotiated a ground lease with a non-profit organization that intended to construct a recreational building on the open space property. Neighbors challenged the Township’s actions with the court of common pleas, which held that Township had not erred by negotiating the lease and that under the Zoning Ordinance, “land occupied by recreational buildings and parking areas used for recreational purposes is in fact Open Space.” Neighbors appealed to the Commonwealth Court arguing that the proposed facility violated the plain language of the Township’s Zoning Ordinance for use of open space.
The Commonwealth Court agreed with Neighbors and reversed the lower court. First, the Commonwealth Court found that the deed conveying the property to the Township conveyed open space property within the meaning of the zoning ordinance. Second, the Commonwealth Court found that the development plan violated the plain language of the Zoning Ordinance regulating open space because the plan, among other things, required the construction of retention basins and roads, allowed for recreational as well as non-recreational purposes, and provided for non-recreational parking spaces for the community and in general. Finally, the Commonwealth Court noted that even if the proposed uses were ancillary to the recreational use, the action was invalid as a violation of the plain language of the ordinance.
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