Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 19, 2014

PA Appeals Court Reverses Zoning Board’s Denial of Special Exception for Religious Retreat

Servant Oasis requested permission to build a religious retreat to accommodate 297 persons at full capacity, while the current status of the property would only allow for 40 overnight campers and 50 daytime visitors. Servant Oasis included a water and sewer feasibility study for construction, which would accommodate the additional visitors expected for the full build-out phase. At the hearing several landowners voiced concerns about the retreat’s impact on their property, whether emergency responders would be able to assist persons at the retreat location, and the increase in traffic. The zoning board in response denied the application stating that the proposal did not satisfy the requirements for special exceptions and that the retreat would be detrimental to public health, safety and welfare.

On appeal, the court found that Servant Oasis identified a plan for their sewage disposal as directed by the zoning statute by giving alternative methods of sewage disposal for the fully built-out retreat, and that the zoning board held them to a higher standard of law, as they were not required to obtain the requisite permit for the sewage proposal during the early stages of the zoning process. With respect to the zoning board’s concerns for an emergency plan, the court found that the emergency plan of access satisfied the zoning board’s requirement, as the submitted plan included preparation of an emergency evacuation plan, training its employees and volunteers, providing a suitable entrance for first responders, and improving existing roadways complied with the minimal guidance of providing a written plan of emergency access to the board. Lastly, the court found that the zoning board’s concerns about increased traffic did not meet its standard of proving there to be a high probability of a substantial threat on the health and safety of the community.

Servants Oasis v Zoning Hearing Board of South Annville Township, 2014 WL 2756553 (PA Cmmwlth 6/18/2014)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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