MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Res., LLC v. Cecil Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 184 A.3d 1048 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2018
A zoning board has the authority to issue conditions for special exceptions so long as those conditions are reasonable.
Applicant applied for a special exception with the Township’s Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB). Following an appeal and remand on another issue, the ZHB approved the application subject to certain conditions. The Applicant challenged the ZHB’s authority to issue the conditions and appealed to the trial court. The trial court affirmed the ZHB’s conditions and the Applicant appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
The Commonwealth Court held the ZHB has the authority to issue conditions when approving a special exception, pursuant to authority granted to it by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) and the Township’s zoning ordinance (Ordinance). However, there are limitations on the conditions the ZHB may impose. The Court stated the “conditions must be reasonable and must have support in the record” and, if they do not, the conditions are an abuse of discretion. Additionally, the Court held a condition is reasonable if it “relate[s] to a standard in the applicable zoning ordinance or in the MPC and [is] supported by evidence.”
As an initial matter, the Commonwealth Court stated that the Applicant’s willingness to accept the ZHB’s prior conditions did not automatically render the conditions reasonable. Then, the Court concluded that most of the ZHB’s 26 conditions were unreasonable because they were not supported by the Ordinance, the MPC, or the record. Examples of the conditions found to be unreasonable in other instances included requiring the Applicant to:
- retain third-party consultants to test water in wells and springs,
- hire consultants to measure the noise level at the station,
- install video surveillance monitoring equipment at the site for security purposes,
- limit the number of compressor engines to no more than five electric or eight gas compressor engines,
- locate compressor engines at least 750 feet away from residences,
- provide copies of all permits granted by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and EPA to the Township,
- turn off all lights at the site at night,
- provide a tour of the site to any Township representative or any resident,
- pave the access road, and
- stop its operations if the Township Board of Supervisors reasonably believes that the residents would be subject to harmful byproducts, among others.
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