This case out of Erie County involved a substantive validity challenge of an ordinance down-zoning a property based on an allegation of illegal spot zoning. In affirming the dismissal of the challenge, the Commonwealth Court concluded that Objectors had failed to satisfy their burden of establishing that the parcel was characteristically similar to surrounding properties.
Upon the request of the Property owner, the Township enacted an amendment to its zoning map, rezoning a large 24-acre parcel from a mix of RR-Rural Residential and R-1-Single Family Residential to R-2 Low Density Residential. The primary difference between the old and new zoning was that two-family dwellings (i.e. duplexes and townhouses) were permitted in the R-2 district, but not in the RR or R-1 districts. Nearby property owners initiated a substantive validity challenge to the ordinance, alleging spot zoning, inconsistency with the comprehensive plan, and that the rezoning was contrary to the public health, safety, and welfare based on traffic concerns. The Township’s Zoning Hearing Board, after a hearing, rejected all of Objectors’ challenges, and this decision was affirmed by the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County.
On appeal to the Commonwealth Court, these decisions were affirmed. As to the spot zoning issue, the court found that Objectors had completely failed to meet their burden of demonstrating the subject property was similar to the immediately surrounding area. Rather, the Property was hemmed in on three sides by non-residential properties (a municipal golf course on two sides and Interstate 79 on the third), while the fourth was the Township boundary. In a spot zoning challenge, the court held, a ZHB does not have to consider similarities with abutting areas in a different municipality. As for the other two issues, Objectors did not raise the comprehensive plan issue on appeal, and the court determined there was no need to address the public welfare grounds where it had already ruled on the characteristically similar issue.
Click here to read: DiMattio v. Millcreek Twp. ZHB, 1051 CD 2015 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Sep. 21, 2016).