In re Appeal of Newtown Racquetball Assocs. from Newtown Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 464 A.2d 576 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1983).

An economic burden alone does not constitute an unnecessary or legal hardship as to warrant a variance. Pursuant to Section 502 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, applications for land development must be sent to the county’s planning commission before a municipality can approve the application.
Case Details:

Applicants, a bank and neighboring swimming club, wished to expand their properties and to create a joint driveway. Applicants entered into an agreement for the creation of the joint driveway.   In addition, the bank applied for variances and a special exception from the Township’s Zoning Hearing Board (“ZHB”) while the swimming club submitted a land development plan for its property.  The ZHB granted the bank’s application for a special exception and variances, and the swimming club’s plan was approved by the municipality.  Objector, a racquetball club, appealed both decisions.

On appeal, the trial court consolidated the Objector’s appeals and the bank withdrew from the litigation.  The swimming club was permitted to proceed on the behalf of the bank and itself.  The trial court affirmed the municipal decisions and Objector appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

The Commonwealth Court stated that an applicant must show an unnecessary or legal hardship to be entitled to a variance.  However, an economic hardship alone is insufficient to meet the unnecessary or legal hardship requirement.  The bank’s sole reason for needing a variance was that it would allow the bank to remain a “full service” bank.  The Court determined that the bank’s reasoning was purely financial.  Accordingly, the Court concluded that the trial court erred in affirming the ZHB’s decision to grant variances to the bank and reversed the trial court’s decision.

In addition, the Commonwealth Court noted a procedural error in the handling of the swimming club’s land development plan.  The swimming club never sent its development plan to the county planning commission as required by Section 502 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code.  Due to this failure, the application was incomplete, and the governing body could not approve the land development plan.  The Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court’s order and the land development plan was denied.

Date of Decision: 8/9/83

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