Pennswood owned an old school building that had previously been redeveloped into a personal care home. The building was located in an R2 zone-medium density residential district. In 1986 Pennswood had obtained a variance to operate the personal care home, but due to economic factors such a use was no longer feasible. Therefore, Pennswood applied to the ZHB for a variance to permit it to operate a Treatment Center/Step Down Unit in the property. It argued the property’s prior prohibited use under the zoning ordinance constituted an unnecessary hardship that warranted a variance. The property, it argues, would be rendered almost valueless if the variance were not granted because the physical characteristics of the property limited its use to either a personal care home or a residential step down unit. Further, it presented testimony that it would not be feasible to renovate the Property for residential use as an upscale project because of the cost, the lack of parking, and the fact that that area was more commercial than residential.
Numerous neighbors testified against the project, stating concerns about safety, and the project’s impact on property values. An official for the school District testified about concerns related to the presence of a nearby intermediate school. The ZHB eventually denied the variance, finding that it would alter the essential character of the neighborhood and did not represent the minimum variance that would afford relief. The Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County affirmed.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the ZHB decision. It found that Pennswood had failed to meet its burden of proving that it met all the requirements for a variance. Specifically, it found that Pennswood failed to establish an unnecessary hardship based on the physical circumstances of the Property and alleged only economic hardship.