Bernotas v. Zoning Hearing Bd., 68 A.3d 1042 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2013).

Lesser standard of hardship required for dimensional variances involving nonconforming use.
Case Details:

Applicant operated a grocery store, which was a legal nonconforming use.  The Applicant filed a special exception request to expand the nonconforming use to construct a loading dock, an enclosed ramp, and a warehouse on the lot.  The proposed additions would increase the building coverage to just over 24 percent, so the Applicant also requested a variance from the maximum permitted building coverage, which was 15 percent. The Zoning Hearing Board granted the special exception and variance and noted that a lesser standard applies to dimensional variances.  The Zoning Hearing Board concluded that the Applicant established unnecessary hardship because his property was on a corner lot and suffered from significant elevation changes due to the excavation of a highway.  Objectors appealed, arguing that the proper standard was not that of a dimensional variance, but the standard for expanding a non-conforming use.  The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Zoning Hearing Board’s decision and stated that the dimensional variance analysis was proper because the new improvements would not create a new principal use on the property.  The improvements only modernized and improved the existing structures.

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