W.J. Menkins Holdings, LLC v. Douglass Twp., 2019 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 407 (May 2, 2019)

A zoning hearing board may impose conditions on the approval of a variance if the conditions bear a reasonable relation to the public interest and are reasonable under the facts of the case. However, the board may not impose conditions that are outside of its authority.
Case Details:

Applicant owned property in the Village Commercial District (VC District) that was improved with a single-family residence and a five-bay garage/office. Prior to Applicant acquiring the property, the Township Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) granted variances allowing the property to be used as a commercial electrical contracting business. The ZHB stated that any further expansion would require additional variances. Applicant leased the property to its subsidiary company (Company) to operate a quarry trucking business. The Company owned 25 dump trucks that were used to haul sand and stone between 1:00 AM and 4:00 PM. Applicant sought a zoning permit to change the property’s use from an electrical contracting business to a hauling business. The ZHB granted the permit, subject to certain conditions. Applicant appealed two of the conditions imposed by the ZHB: (1) trucking and hauling uses were only permitted from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM and (2) Applicant was required to apply for and obtain final land development approval. The trial court affirmed the ZHB’s decision and Applicant appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

Applicant stated that there should be no time restrictions with the exception of certain limited activities. The Court stated that the ZHB has a right to impose reasonable conditions and safeguards so long as they bear a reasonable relation to protecting the public interest and are reasonable under the facts of the case. The hours of operation limitations were imposed to minimize noise disturbances after regular business hours. Numerous neighbors testified that the Company regularly operated from 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM, which resulted in loud disturbances from the trucks and the Company’s employees. According to residents, these disturbances impacted the outdoor environment of their homes. Conditioning the variance by limiting the operation hours also made the Company’s operations more compatible with the VC District. Because there was ample evidence to show that the Company’s late-night operations negatively impacted the surrounding property owners, which affected the public’s health, safety, and welfare, the ZHB was authorized to impose limitations on the Company’s operating hours.

Two neighbors expressed their concerns with potential water run-off from the Company’s property (after washing and cleaning trucks) to their property. In lieu of these concerns, the ZHB imposed the second condition regarding a land development plan. Land development plans are required for improvement to any lot, parcel, or tract of land. The Court stated that the ZHB lacked the authority to require a land development plan as a variance approval condition because it did not constitute an “improvement,” making the condition unreasonable and invalid. Therefore, Applicant did not have to apply for and obtain final land development approval.



Date of Decision: 5/2/19

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