In this challenge of the grant of a variance by the City of Philadelphia’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (“ZBA”), the Commonwealth Court ruled that a narrow side-yard and district-wide parking restrictions did not amount to an unnecessary hardship that would warrant a variance to locate a parking space within the front-yard setback.
The Bernadinos own a property with a single-family home in the RSA-3 zoning district of the City. Their house is set back 19’4” and their front porch is set back 13’2” from the front line of their property. The Bernadinos applied to the City’s Department of Licenses and Inspections (“L&I”) for a variance to construct a single-car, open-air parking space in their front yard. The request was denied by L&I because it did not meet the setback requirements of the Zoning Ordinance, and the Bernadinos appealed to the ZBA. The ZBA granted the requested variance, over the objection of the Chestnut Hill Community Association (the “Association”), finding that the Bernadinos had no way to create rear access parking on their property due to the narrowness of the existing side yard. The Association appealed, and the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County affirmed the ZBA’s decision. The Association further appealed, arguing that the Bernadinos had failed to establish an unnecessary hardship if they were not granted the requested variance.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed, finding that the Bernadinos had not demonstrated an unnecessary hardship that would warrant the issuance of a variance. Specifically, the court asserted that the alleged hardship—the narrowness of the side-yard—was a feature of most of the properties in the area, and therefore was not unique to the Bernadinos’ property.