Coyle v. City of Leb. Zoning Hearing Bd., 135 A.3d 240 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016)
Applicants for temporary variances must meet the same standards of proof as are required for permanent variances. In addition, de minimis variances may only be granted for dimensional variances.
Landowner bought and remodeled a single-family home (Property) where she resided and operated her law practice. In the Property’s zoning district, business and professional offices were not permitted uses. Landowner applied for a variance to permit two unused bedrooms to be used as attorney offices twice a week. The temporary variance was granted by the City’s Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB). Objector, who owned a neighboring property, appealed to the trial court which affirmed the ZHB’s decision. Objector appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
On appeal to the Commonwealth Court, Objector argued the ZHB erred by granting a variance (1) without proof that strict adherence to the ordinance as is would cause unnecessary hardship; (2) without addressing certain variance requirements under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) and the zoning ordinance; and (3) under the de minimis doctrine. With respect to the first argument, the Court stated Landowner failed to submit, and the ZHB did not attempt to discuss, evidence that strict adherence to the zoning ordinance would cause Landowner an unnecessary hardship. Therefore, the ZHB erred by granting a variance without this required proof. The ZHB implied Landowner need not satisfy certain variance requirements under the MPC and zoning ordinance because the variance was temporary. The Court disagreed. According to earlier decisions, applicants for temporary variances must meet the same standards of proof as are required for permanent variances. The ZHB erred by failing to require Landowner to meet the requirements at issue.
Concerning Objector’s third argument, the Court stated the de minimis doctrine is a narrow exception to the heavy burden of proof placed on parties seeking variances. De minimis variances may only be granted where the deviation sought is minor and strict compliance is not necessary to protect the public interest. This doctrine, however, is inapplicable to use variances. De minimis variances are appropriate only for minor deviations from dimensional restrictions. Therefore, the ZHB’s granting of a de minimis use variance was improper and constituted reversible error.
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