Good v. Zoning Hearing Board of Heidelberg Township, 967 A.2d 421 (Pa. Commw. 2009).

In issuing a special exception concerning animal operations, a municipality may impose conditions more stringent than those provided by Federal and State law, and conditions designed to promote public safety and health will be upheld absent an abuse of discretion.
Case Details:

Private landowners applied to the Zoning Hearing Board of Heidelberg Township (“ZHB”) for a special exception for a dog kennel on their property.  The plans involved construction of a building with 16 dog pens and exercise areas.  The Ordinance permitted a dog kennel only by special exception.  The ZHB issued the special exception, but attached 28 conditions regulating items such dogs per pen, ventilation, heating, disposal of dead animals, feeding, and exercising.  The Court of Common Pleas, following appeal by the Landowners challenging all 28 conditions, struck 2 conditions, but affirmed the rest.  The Landowners subsequently appealed to Commonwealth Court.

The Landowners first challenge concerned conditions relating to size of pens, number of dogs per pen and temperature of the pens, arguing that these conditions are governed by the Federal Animal Welfare Act, thus the municipality was not permitted to impose more strict requirements.  The Commonwealth Court rejected this argument, expressly determining that state and local authorities may impose more stringent regulations concerning animal operations than those set forth in the Federal statute.  The Court determined that, because it was possible to comply with the Federal statute and the conditions imposed by the ZHB, the conditions were proper.  The Landowners also challenged the condition requiring any dead animals to be disposed of off-site by a reputable removal service as preempted by Pennsylvania’s Domestic Animal Law which allows for disposal by composting.  The Court rejected this challenge finding that although Pennsylvania law permits several means of disposal, there was no conflict because the ZHB did not specify the method of disposal, only prohibiting on-site disposal.

Finally, the Landowners challenged 8 remaining conditions as unreasonable and beyond the ZHB’s authority because they related to dog maintenance not any zoning purpose and was instead based on a popular objection to “puppy mills” and without basis in law or fact.  The Court explained that conditions may be attached to special exceptions so long as they are reasonable.  The purpose of the Ordinance was to promote the health, safety, morals and general welfare of the Township, and the evidence demonstrated that all of the conditions were designed to promote the public interest and welfare of all concerned.  Because there was no evidence that the ZHB abused its discretion in this finding, the Court denied the Landowners’ appeal of these conditions.

Date of Decision: 1/9/09

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