Mary E. Schadt (Applicant) appealed an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County (trial court) denying her request for zoning relief. The trial court affirmed the decision of the City of Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board holding, inter alia, that Applicant failed to demonstrate the requisite hardship for a use variance to convert her home into a suite of professional offices. There were three detached buildings on the property: a three-story single-family dwelling, a detached garage with a vacant apartment above, and two small, one-story, book shops are located in a single building. Schadt applied for a variance under Section 1325.06 of the City’s Zoning Ordinance to convert the existing single-family dwelling into a financial services office, which is a commercial use not permitted in the RT High Density Residential District. The Zoning Board concluded that she failed to demonstrate that a physical condition of the property prevents its use in conformance with the Zoning Ordinance and that the variance she requested was the minimum relief necessary: thus, not an undue hardship.
Schadt contended that the presence of non-conforming commercial uses on the property is itself a unique physical condition which, in combination with the zoning regulations, creates an unnecessary hardship. However, the Schadt and her family have used the historic single-family home as their residence for 40 years, and the home has been used by other families for this purpose for over a century. This fact rebutted the claim that the property could not be used without a variance. The court also noted that an inability to sell the property in less than four months did not represent a hardship that would justify a variance, and would at most be considered a “mere economic hardship.”
Schadt also contended that the presence of the nonconforming book shops on the property constituted a unique physical condition that, by definition, prevented the use of the property in conformance with the Zoning Ordinance. The court was unpersuaded by this argument because she did not seek to expand the existing non-conforming use of two small bookstores but, rather, to create an entirely new non-conforming use. Accordingly, the court found that the Zoning Board did not err in concluding that Applicant failed to establish the unnecessary hardship required for a use variance to convert her residential home to a commercial use.
Schadt v City of Bethlehem Zoning Hearing Board, 2015 WL 3915949 (PA Commwlth 6/26/2015)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/pa-commonwealth-court/1705826.html