Citation:

EQT Prod. Co. v. Borough of Jefferson Hills, 162 A.3d 554 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017)

Summary:
Where an applicant satisfies the objective requirements for a conditional use, such applicant is generally entitled to conditional use approval. Once the applicant meets these requirements, the burden shifts to objectors to prove detrimental effects to the public’s health, safety and welfare with “credible and sufficient evidence.” Further, if one is to justify the denial of a conditional use that meets the objective requirements of the ordinance, “the degree of harm . . . must be greater than that which normally flows from the proposed use.”
Case Details:

Applicant sought conditional use approval for a proposed unconventional gas well site. Borough Council (Council) denied the application, finding Applicant failed to show the use would not endanger the health, safety or welfare of the public. Applicant appealed to the trial court which reversed Council’s decision. The Borough appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

The Commonwealth Court stated applicants are entitled to conditional uses unless the applicant fails to satisfy the objective requirements for conditional uses in the ordinance. Once the applicant meets these requirements, the burden is on any objectors to prove detrimental effects to the public’s health, safety and welfare with “credible and sufficient evidence.” Further, if one is to justify the denial of a conditional use that meets the objective requirements of the ordinance, “the degree of harm . . . must be greater than that which normally flows from the proposed use.” Applicant proved it met the objective criteria, so the burden shifted to Objectors. However, testimony offered by Objectors discussed only serious problems at other well sites and unconventional wells generally, which did not prove the proposed well site would cause a greater detrimental effect on the public’s health, safety, and welfare, that would not typically be caused by such a use. None of the testimony was specific to the proposed use and was, therefore, speculative.

Date of Decision: 5/18/17

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