Chrin Brothers, Inc. v. Williams Twp. ZHB, et al., 815 A.2d 1179 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003), 2/3/03:
The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Zoning Hearing Board’s denial of a land use appeal and “validity” variance from provisions of a zoning ordinance regulating forestry activities, specifically clearcutting. Applying a substantive due process analysis, the Court framed the issue as whether the challenged regulations have the requisite substantial relationship to the public welfare. The challenged ordinance: (i) prohibited clearcutting on tracts less than two (2) acres in size; (ii) on tracts larger than two (2) areas, required that at least 30% of the forest cover (canopy) be kept and the residual trees well distributed and composed of a higher value species; and (iii) prohibited clearcutting on areas with slopes greater than 25% or within a 100-year floodway. The Applicant offered the testimony of an expert in the field of forestry; the Township offered the testimony of its engineer. The Zoning Hearing Board found the testimony of the Township Engineer more credible and concluded that the challenged regulations were not unreasonably restrictive of forest activities, and denied the appeal. The Court found that the challenged regulations were intended to help prevent erosion and were based on an engineering study, and held that the regulations were not arbitrary or unreasonable and had the requisite substantial relationship to the public welfare.
In addition, the Court held that Chrin Brothers, Inc. was not entitled to a validity variance. A validity variance is granted where a zoning regulation is restrictive to the point of confiscation, and the issuance of a variance is necessary to permit a reasonable use of the land. The Court explained that in its decision of Shohola Falls, it stated two factors that an applicant must establish before a validity variance can be obtained. The applicant must show (1) the effect of the regulations complained of is unique to the applicant’s property and not merely a difficulty common to other lands in the neighborhood, and (2) the regulation is confiscatory in that it deprives the owner of the use of the property. Applying this analysis, the Court held that the Applicant had failed to meet the standards for a validity variance given the Applicant’s own expert’s testimony that forestry could be conducted on the property in compliance with the Ordinance.
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