DeAngelo v. N. Strabane Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 2019 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 372, (Apr. 26, 2019)
A variance constitutes a use variance when it contemplates more than a reasonable adjustment from area and space requirements in order to develop a permitted use. Variance applicants must be given a fair and full opportunity to present their request for a variance to the zoning hearing board
Applicants owned a two-acre property in the R-3 High Density Residential Zoning District (R-3 District). The Township Zoning Ordinance allowed for a medical clinic as a conditional use in the R-3 District if it was established in conjunction with, and adjacent to, a life care community. Applicants challenged the constitutionality of the Zoning Ordinance as de facto exclusionary and arbitrary and unreasonable. Applicants sought, in the alternative, a variance due to an unnecessary hardship from the restrictive and unenforceable nature of the Zoning Ordinance language associated with the R-3 District. The zoning hearing board (ZHB) did not take evidence at the hearing, explaining that it would decide only whether the Zoning Ordinance needed to be interpreted. Both the ZHB and the Trial Court upheld the Zoning Ordinance. It was not ruled de facto exclusionary because stand-alone medical clinics were permitted in C-1 and C-2 Commercial Districts, and it was not ruled impermissibly restrictive because Applicants failed to prove that the ordinance excluded a legitimate use. The trial court also ruled that Applicants had a full and fair opportunity to present their case for a variance but failed to prove any of the requirements.
The Commonwealth Court addressed three issues on appeal: (1) whether the Zoning Ordinance was unconstitutional as de facto exclusionary or arbitrary and unreasonable, (2) whether the variance sought was a dimensional or use variance, and (3) whether Applicants were given a full and fair opportunity to present their request for a variance to the ZHB. The Commonwealth Court first concluded that the Zoning Ordinance was not de facto exclusionary because it did not act to prohibit stand-alone medical clinics throughout the municipality; rather, the use was prohibited in the R-3 District but was permitted in C-1 and C-2 Districts. The Court concluded that the Zoning Ordinance was not arbitrary and unreasonable because it was rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose. The purpose of the R-3 District was to provide for single and multi-family housing developments, and it specifically limited a medical clinic to one associated with a facility that had a residential character.
The Commonwealth Court then determined that Applicants were seeking a use variance. A use variance involves the use of property in a manner that is wholly outside of a zoning regulation, whereas a dimensional variance only contemplates a reasonable adjustment from area and space requirements in order to develop a permitted use. Applicants did not seek a reasonable adjustment from area and space requirements, as the Zoning Ordinance language had nothing to do with lot width, building area, minimum setbacks, or surface limitations. Rather, Applicants requested a departure from the requirement that a medical clinic be attached to a life care community. After determining that the proper variance would be a use variance, the Court concluded that Applicants had not been given a full and fair opportunity to be heard. The ZHB did not receive any testimony or evidence at any point prior to denying Applicants’ request for a variance. Applicants are entitled to a full and fair opportunity to present their request for a variance, and because the ZHB deprived them of that right, the case would be remanded for a new hearing to determine whether Applicants could show unnecessary hardship for a use variance.
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