The Commonwealth Court found in this case that mere “concerns” about gas emissions from a proposed compressor station were insufficient to establish a substantial threat to the community that would justify the denial of a conditional use application.
Cardinal PA Midstream, LLC (Cardinal) filed a conditional use application with the Township to build a gas compressor station on property in the Township’s “A-1 Agricultural District.” The Kretschmanns (“Objectors”), who operated an organic farm on an adjacent property, opposed the project at public hearings on the application. Their primary concern was that gas emissions from the proposed compressor station could contaminate their produce. They urged further study of the issue before granting the application. In its decision, the Township found that Cardinal had complied with all of the requirements for a conditional use permit in the Zoning Ordinance, and that Objectors had not presented sufficient evidence that the proposed use would present a substantial threat to the community. Therefore the Township approved the application, subject to 33 specified conditions.
The Objectors appealed the decision to the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County and requested that additional evidence be taken. This request was denied. They then argued that the Township had violated their due process rights by failing to address their evidence in its Decision, and argued the ordinance authorizing and regulating oil and gas operations in the Township was unconstitutional. The trial court denied their appeal and affirmed the Township’s decision. It stated that the Township was not required to address each item of evidence offered in a hearing, and that Objectors had not preserved their challenge to the constitutionality of the ordinance. Objectors appealed, adding an additional claim that the trial court had erred in denying their motion to present additional evidence.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the lower court’s holding. It found that Objectors’ evidence lacked probative value and that the 33 conditions imposed upon approval showed that the Township had considered their comments in rendering its decision. The court also held that Objector’s constitutional claims should have been made by filing a curative amendment, and that a conditional use appeal was not the place for a substantive validity challenge. Finally, the court held that the trial court had not abused its discretion by refusing to expand the record because Objectors had not shown they were denied the opportunity to be fully heard below or that relevant evidence had been excluded.