In this case out of Berks County, the Commonwealth Court determined that a proposed project to house terminally ill individuals in a “family-like” setting was permitted by right in a zoning district that allowed single-family dwellings.
Margaret Impink agreed to donate property she owned in the Cumru Township high density residential district to St. Francis Home to construct a residential dwelling for terminally ill individuals to live in a “family-like” environment. The contractor for the project applied for, and was issued, building and construction permits by the Township zoning officer that identified Impink as the owner, despite ownership having already passed to St. Francis Home. The Hartmans, who owned property adjacent to the subject property, appealed the issuance of the permits. The ZHB denied the Hartmans’ appeal, concluding the proposed dwelling constituted a single-family dwelling, which was a permitted use in the HR district. The Hartmans appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County. The trial court dismissed their appeal and affirmed the ZHB’s decision. The Hartmans then appealed to Commonwealth Court.
On appeal, the Hartmans argued that: the proposed dwelling was not a “single-family dwelling” because the residents were transient and would only reside there for 6 months or less, the volunteers assisting the residents should not be considered part of the “family” and were not equivalent to domestic employees or gratuitous guests, the permits were invalid because they listed the incorrect property owner, and the ZHB should have considered evidence of traffic congestion that would be caused by the project.
The Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. It found that the terminally ill residents were not “transient” because they were permitted to live at the property for an unlimited time until their deaths. It found that the volunteers were considered part of the “family” because they were equivalent to domestic employees and/or gratuitous guests, which were specifically included in “family” under the zoning ordinance. It found that the permits were valid because Ms. Impink and the St. Francis Home had commonality and were in agreement as to the purpose of the permits, therefore creating no prejudice to anybody. Finally, the court determined that because the applications were for building and construction permits, evidence of potential traffic congestion was irrelevant and was properly excluded by the ZHB.
Click here to read: Hartman v. ZHB of Cumru Twp., 650 C.D. 2015 (Pa. Cmwlth. Feb. 12, 2016).