In this appeal out of Monroe County, the Commonwealth Court was asked to determine whether the ZHB and Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County properly interpreted the Township’s Zoning Ordinance as excluding transient lodging enterprises in districts where only a single-family dwelling use was permitted. In reversing the trial court’s affirmation of the ZHB’s decision, the Court found that such a use, pursuant to the definitions in the Ordinance, was permitted.
Slice of Life, LLC (“SOL”) owned a residential property in the Township’s Zoning District A. The only use permitted in the A district was “single family residential dwelling.” The Township Zoning Officer issued an Enforcement Notice to SOL charging it with violations of the Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”) for using the property as a “Hotel and/or other types of transient lodging, Rental of Single Family Residential Dwelling for transient tenancies.” The Ordinance defined “family” as: “[o]ne or more person, occupying a dwelling unit, related by blood, marriage, or adoption, living together as a single housekeeping unit and using cooking facilities and certain rooms in common.” The terms “single family,” “tourist home,” “transient lodging,” and “transient tenancies” were not defined in the Ordinance. SOL appealed the enforcement notice to the Township’s Zoning Hearing Board (the “ZHB”). A hearing was held on the application and several neighbors testified about the bad behavior of tenants using the property. The ZHB denied the appeal, finding SOL’s use was not permitted, and even if permitted, the use was irreconcilable with the notion of a single family residential zoning district. SOL appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County. The trial court affirmed the ZHB’s decision, finding a short-term, transient lodging business was not encompassed within the “single family residential dwelling” use, and that the Township had demonstrated the use was contrary to the health, safety, and welfare of the public. SOL appealed.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed. It found that as written, the definition of “family” did not exclude the short-term transient tenancies occurring at SOL’s property and the Zoning Ordinance was ambiguous. As ambiguity in the Ordinance had to be resolved in favor of the applicant, it was improper for the ZHB to deny the appeal. It further opined that “[e]nterprises such as AirBnB have expanded the possible uses of single-family dwellings and a township can address such uses in the zoning ordinance…Amendments, however, cannot be effected by shoe-horning a use that involves renting an entire single-family home to vacationers into the definition of ‘tourist home.’” Lastly, the Court determined that the Township had failed to show that the use would generate actions not normally generated by this type of use and that the use posed a substantial threat to the health and safety of the community. A dissenting opinion was filed by Senior Judge Collins.