This case required the Commonwealth Court to review the evidence from a borough council meeting regarding a proposed land development plan and conditional use application. The court held that the applicant presented sufficient evidence to show that the plans complied with the applicable ordinance, and the objector failed to meet its burden of proving otherwise. Furthermore, the court ruled that a dispute over an easement, which was raised by the objector, can only be heard in court, not at a council or zoning hearing board meeting.
In 2013, Maple Avenue Parks Partners, LLP (Maple Avenue) filed a conditional use application and a land development plan with the Ambler Borough Council (Ambler). Maple Avenue sought to construct an apartment complex with an amenity building on Chestnut Street in Ambler, which would be named Ambler Crossings. At a hearing for the application, American Marketing Association, Inc. (American Marketing) objected to Ambler Crossings on the grounds that it would obstruct the use of a private easement that American Marketing made use of. American Marketing did not challenge Maple Avenue’s compliance with any general or specific conditional use criteria set forth in the Ambler zoning code. At the conclusion of the hearing, Ambler voted unanimously to grant Maple Avenue’s conditional use application. The trial court, without taking any additional evidence, affirmed the grant.
On appeal in the Commonwealth Court, American Marketing argued that granting the conditional use application and land development plan were abuses of discretion. The property on Chestnut was located in Ambler’s Redevelopment Overlay (RO) district, which permits various types of residential developments. Once an applicant for a conditional use satisfies the burden of showing that it is entitled to the conditional use, the burden switches to the objectors to show why the applicant is not. In this case, the burden was shifted from Maple Avenue to American Marketing, and American Marketing was unable to produce evidence showing that Ambler Crossings could not comply with the governing regulations for the RO district. Regarding American Marketing’s concerns over its use of the easement, the Commonwealth Court stated that disputes over private easements are issues to be settled in court, not at a borough council or zoning hearing board meeting.
American Marketing also argued that Ambler’s Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO) required Maple Avenue’s preliminary plan to show easements designated for public or quasi-public uses. The Commonwealth Court reviewed the evidence and determined that the easement American Marketing complained of was purely private. Furthermore, even if it had been quasi-public, American Marketing failed to provide the location of the easement with enough specificity for Maple Avenue’s engineers to plot it on the preliminary plans.
Bob Turchick, Law Clerk