In this land use appeal from Montgomery County, the Commonwealth Court re-affirmed the requirement that an applicant seeking a dimensional variance from a provision of a local zoning ordinance prove that the subject property is burdened by an unnecessary hardship to justify the requested relief.
In 2016, Appellee Peter Horgan entered into an agreement of sale for the purchase of a property located in Worcester Township, Montgomery County, PA. The agreement of sale was contingent upon Horgan obtaining necessary approvals to subdivide the property into two parcels. Horgan filed a request for variance with the Worcester Township Zoning Hearing Board, seeking a dimensional variance from the requirement that each parcel have a minimum width of 250 feet along its frontal boundary. Horgan proposed to split the property into two parcels- with one parcel being a “flag lot” with street frontage less than the required 250 feet. At a hearing before the Board, Horgan presented testimony the property was “narrow for its depth,” which made it impossible to subdivide without a dimensional variance regarding lot width at the street line. Objector Paul Heck presented testimony that questioned whether the depth of the property in relation to its width was actually a unique physical characteristic that justified a dimensional variance. The Board granted Horgan’s request and the Objector appealed to the trial court, which affirmed without taking additional evidence. The Objector then appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
The Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court’s decision, finding that the Board erred in granting Horgan’s request for a dimensional variance. The Court found that there was no evidence that showed that Horgan could not rehabilitate the property in a zoning compatible manner, and therefore no evidence for the Board to find that the property was burdened by an unnecessary hardship justifying relief from the zoning ordinance’s requirements regarding lot-width. The Court reasoned that although splitting the property into two parcels might be financially beneficial to Horgan and the Township, those interests were insufficient to grant Horgan’s requested relief. Instead, the Board should have inquired whether the property’s unique physical characteristics presented an impediment to developing the property in conformity with zoning, and not whether the zoning ordinance was an obstruction to Horgan’s development proposal.