Keinath v. Township of Edgmont, 964 A.2d 458 (Pa. Commw. 2009).

An ordinance restricting development in an R-1 District to one unit per two acres was not invalid or subject to curative amendment where the restriction was reasonably related to the Township’s interest in protecting the public health, safety and welfare and the Ordinance did not completely exclude a legitimate use.
Case Details:

Private individuals owned approximately 25 acres within the R-1 Rural Residential/Agricultural Zoning District of Edgmont Township.  After a conditional use application to permit development of the property was rejected based on the fact that the Ordinance required a minimum of one-acre density thereby limiting the development to 12 homes when the Landowners proposed 17, the Landowners applied for a curative amendment under the MPC, arguing that the Zoning Ordnance unconstitutionally excluded residential development at a density of less than one unit for every two acres and prohibited growth.  The Township found that the Ordinance implemented the goal of promoting growth and development while providing for land conservation to offset the extreme development located in other parts of the Township.  The Township also determined that because the only reason for requesting more lots was economic and lot sizes of one acre or less were permitted elsewhere in the Township, the Ordinance was not de facto exclusionary and there was no basis for a curative amendment.  The Landowners appealed, and the Trial Court affirmed the Township’s decision.

The Commonwealth Court explained that to successfully challenge an Ordinance, the Landowner must prove it is arbitrary and unreasonable and bears no substantial relationship to promoting public health, safety or welfare.  In determining whether the Ordinance is reasonable, the Court looks to whether it is consistent with the stated purposes of the particular zoning district, as the municipality has the right to reasonably limit an owner’s absolute right to use his property so long as the limits are designed to protect and preserve public health, safety and welfare.  Landowners argued they were entitled to a curative amendment, as the requirement of two acres per unit was not rationally related to any zoning purpose.  The Court determined one-acre lots were possible under another provision of the Ordinance, and the only impact was economic – Landowners would make less money by selling only 12 lots.  The Ordinance is not invalid merely because it does not permit the most lucrative use of the property and the limitations in the Ordinance served the stated purpose of the ordinance, thus the Township did not abuse its discretion in denying the curative amendment.  The Landowners then argued that the Ordinance was de factoexclusionary based on the restriction of one unit for every two acres in the R-1 District.  The Court explained that if the community is in the path of growth but not already highly developed, the ordinance is exclusionary if it has the practical effect of unlawfully excluding the legitimate use in question.  Because the Ordinance provided for one-unit-per-acre development elsewhere in the Township, the Ordinance could not be invalidated for excluding a legitimate use.

Date of Decision: 1/22/09

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