Dimattio v. Millcreek Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 147 A.3d 969 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016)

In order to prove illegal spot zoning, the challenger must show the lands surrounding the property at issue are similar in character to the parcel that is subject to different zoning treatment.
Case Details:

Applicants requested that their 24-acre parcel of land (Property) be down-zoned from single-family residential to low-density residential to allow two-family dwellings. The Township’s Board of Supervisors (BOS) amended the zoning ordinance as requested. Objectors, who were nearby property owners that shared the single point of access, but whose properties did not adjoin the Property, challenged the substantive validity of the zoning amendment. They asserted the rezoning was unlawful spot-zoning, and that it was not related to the public’s health, safety, or welfare. The Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) rejected the claims. Objectors appealed to the trial court, which also rejected the claims and affirmed the ZHB’s decision. Objectors then appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

The Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. Spot zoning occurs when a parcel is being treated “unjustifiably different from the surrounding land, thus creating an ‘island’ having no relevant differences from its neighbors.” In order to establish the occurrence of illegal spot zoning, challengers must prove the rezoning reflects a difference in treatment of a certain property surrounded by land that is similar in character. Objectors failed to produce evidence that any of the properties to the north, south, east, or west of the Property were similar in character. For example, the adjoining area to the west and north of the Property was part of the municipal golf course, the area to the south was part of another township, and Interstate 79 was to the east.  Accordingly, per the Court, “the immediate area surrounding the Property appear[ ] to be completely dissimilar to the Property”; therefore, the Court could not find that the BOS engaged in spot zoning when they rezoned the Property.

Date of Decision: 9/21/16

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