In this appeal, the Commonwealth Court found that an informal citizens group who failed to appear before the City of Philadelphia’s Zoning Board of Adjustment lacked standing to appeal the Board’s decision because the group was not an “aggrieved person” with representational standing.
Appellant “The Faithful Laurentians, by their Trustees Ad Litem, Carolyn Devine and Venise Whitaker,” (“Appellant”) is an informal citizens group that advocates for the preservation and reuse of Saint Laurentius Polish Catholic Church in Philadelphia. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia previously owned the Church and surrounding parcels of land, although the Archdiocese closed the church in 2014, and the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections (“L&I”) has since deemed the structure unsafe due to serious structural problems. The Archdiocese sold the property to Linden Lane Capital Partners, LLC (“Linden”) in 2016, who subsequently assigned its rights to the property to Appellee, 1600 Berks, LLC (“Appellee”). In 2016, Linden submitted a zoning permit application to L&I, seeking authorization to convert the property into twenty-three residential housing units, while preserving the church’s historic exterior. L&I denied the application because the property is zoned RSA-5, which only permits the property to be used for single-family homes. Linden appealed L&I’s denial to the City of Philadelphia, Zoning Board of Adjustment (the “Board”).
The Board conducted a hearing on Linden’s use and dimensional variances application where some members of the public testified in opposition to the application, including Venise Whitaker (who is identified in the caption as Trustee Ad Litem for Appellant). The Board ultimately approved Linden’s application and granted the requested variances. Appellant appealed the Board’s decision to the trial court, and the city and Appellee filed a motion to quash the appeal, arguing that Appellant lacked standing because no one had appeared or objected on behalf of the Faithful Laurentians at the Board hearing. The trial court granted Appellees’ motion to quash Appellant’s appeal due to lack of standing, and this appeal followed.
The Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that Appellant did not have standing to appeal. The crux of the Commonwealth Court’s decision was that Appellants were not “aggrieved person[s],” within the meaning of Section 17.1 of the Home Rule Act, as required in order to have standing to appeal a decision of the Board to the trial court. To be aggrieved, a party must establish an interest that is “substantial, direct, and immediate.” Appellant claimed that it had representational standing to appeal the Board’s decision because some of its members testified during the Board’s hearing. The Court rejected this claim because nobody who had testified before the Board had identified themselves as a member of the “Faithful Laurentians,” or stated they were appearing on its behalf. This included Venise Whitaker (in fact, the Court found there was no evidence to suggest that Carolyn Devine or Venise Whitaker were ever appointed by a Court as trustees ad litem, as they claim). Therefore, the Court found that Appellant failed to establish that the Faithful Laurentians were an aggrieved party with representational standing.