Citation:

Allegheny Tower Assocs., LLC v. City of Scranton Zoning Hearing Bd., 152 A.3d 1118 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017)

Summary:
Applicants have both the burden of proof and persuasion to convince a zoning hearing board that the proposed use satisfies the zoning ordinance’s objective requirements for special exceptions. Once satisfied, the burden shifts to objectors to prove the specific use has greater detrimental effects than those normally expected from the particular use, and that these impacts will pose a substantial threat to the health and safety of the community. Testimony concerning potential decline in property values is not, by itself, enough to meet this burden.
Case Details:

Applicant sought a special exception to build a communications tower on property (Property) located in the City’s Light Industrial District. The City’s Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) denied the application, finding the proposed tower would negatively affect the desirable character of a nearby, but not adjacent, residential neighborhood. The ZHB’s finding was based on Objectors’ complaints about the tower’s proposed existence in an area that has flooded in the past, the possibility of the tower falling over, and that the tower was aesthetically displeasing and would decrease property values. Applicant appealed to the trial court, which affirmed the decision of the ZHB for the same reasons. Applicant appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

In coming to its decision, the Commonwealth Court stated that applicants have both the burden of proof and persuasion to convince a zoning hearing board that the proposed use satisfies the zoning ordinance’s specific objective requirements for special exceptions. Once satisfied, the burden shifts to objectors to prove the specific use will have greater detrimental effects than those normally expected from the particular use, and that those impacts will pose a substantial threat to the health and safety of the community. Testimony concerning potential decline in property values is not, by itself, enough to meet this burden. If the ordinance does not expressly place the latter duty on the applicant, all the applicant has to prove are the specific objective requirements of the ordinance with respect to special exceptions. Here, Applicant met all the specific objective requirements in the City’s Zoning Ordinance.

The only issue left to be resolved was whether the proposed tower would significantly negatively affect the character of the neighborhood, which was left to Objectors to prove. Objectors failed to meet their burden because (1) the concerns about flooding in the area were based on preexisting flooding issues, which they failed to prove would be exacerbated by the tower; (2) testimony regarding the possibility the proposed tower could fall was based on speculation; and (3) testimony concerning a potential decline in property values is not, by itself, enough to meet their burden.

Date of Decision: 1/10/17

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