Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 31, 2010

PA Court Holds that Church Satisfies Parking Requirement Condition and Reminds About the Importance of Written Decisions and Proper Procedures

Plaintiff church entered a sales agreement for a property that did not have space for parking spaces.  The property, located in an area zoned R-2, had been used as a Laundromat before an ordinance was enacted that required at least 15 off-street parking spaces. A church is permissible in the R-2 zone and is required to have at least one parking spot for every 10 members.  The Plaintiff’s applied for a variance and zoning interpretation concerning parking spaces but the Zoning Hearing Board concluded that a variance was not needed because the Plaintiff’s required less parking than did the former Laundromat.  But the Zoning Board did not issue a written decision and Plaintiffs published a public notice in the local newspaper stating that there had been approval from the Board.

Plaintiffs had also applied for a conditional use permit, which the City Council granted but on several conditions.  One such condition required Plaintiff’s to get a written license for 8 off-street parking spaces, which Plaintiffs did with neighbors who had 30 spaces available.  But the Plaintiffs appealed to the trial court because they argued that the condition should not have been imposed because the former Laundromat’s non-conforming use continued to be applicable to the property. The City Council said that the non-conforming use was terminated when the Laundromat was sold to Plaintiffs and therefore, it no longer applied.  The trial court determined that the non-conforming use had ended but that Plaintiffs had obtained a variance by deemed approval because the Zoning Hearing Board failed to issue a written decision.  Both Plaintiffs and the City appealed.

The Court determined that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to review the deemed approval issue.  And furthermore, the Plaintiffs did not carry out the proper procedures for a deemed approval when it failed to post the property in the notice.

The Court also determined that the City Council did not have the authority to decide whether the non-conforming use enjoyed by the Laundromat ended when the property was sold to Plaintiffs.  And because the City Council did not have authority, its decision was invalid.  The question then turned to whether Plaintiff’s had satisfied the condition of obtaining 8 parking spaces.  The Court determined that Plaintiff’s satisfied the condition when it entered into an agreement with the neighboring property owners who had 30 parking spaces available.

Maple Street A.M.E. Zion Church v. City of Williamsport, 7 A.3d 319 (Pa. Cmwlth.,10/8/2010)

The opinion can be accessed here

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