Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 14, 2016

PA Appeals Court Holds Club’s Preexisting Use of Its Property for Go-Kart Racing on Sundays was Entitled to Nonconforming Use Status

Hunterstown Ruritan Club appealed from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County denying the Club’s appeal from a decision of the Zoning Hearing Board of Straban Township denying the Club’s application to expand a prior nonconforming use on property it owns in the Township. A portion of the property was informally used for go-cart racing beginning in the early 1960s. The Club eventually entered into a relationship with the Hunterstown Kart Club (HKC), some of whose members belonged to both organizations. The property was not zoned until 1992, when the township adopted its first zoning ordinance and found the go-cart racing to be a legal nonconforming use. On appeal the Club first argued that it never abandoned the nonconforming use of go-cart racing on Sunday. The Club maintained that the Board’s Finding of Fact No. 8 confirmed that fact and supported the Club’s position that the lawful nonconforming use includes racing on both Saturday and Sunday.

The court found that under the doctrine of natural expansion, “the right to expand [a nonconforming use] as required to maintain economic viability or to take advantage of increases in trade, is also constitutionally protected.” Since the issuance of a nonconforming use certificate does not grant a landowner any additional property rights, and the absence of a certificate does not deprive landowner of his right to continue a lawful nonconforming use, the failure to appeal from the terms of a certificate of nonconformance results only in a procedural disadvantage and not in a restriction or limitation of constitutionally protected property right. Thus, while the Board purportedly recognized the legal insignificance of the certificate, it nevertheless failed to recognize that the Club’s preexisting lawful use of the property for Sunday racing was entitled to constitutional protection.

Here, in addition to arguing that the increase in Sunday races over time was a natural expansion of a lawful nonconforming use, the Club acknowledged the concerns expressed by its neighbors and represented that it would comply with all aspects of the Ordinance. Accordingly, the court held that the Board erred in determining that the Club is not permitted to hold any races on Sunday, and the trial court erred in affirming the Board’s decision.

Hunterstown Ruritan Club v Straban Township Zoning Hearing Board, 2016 WL 3755520 (PA Commwlth 7/14/2016)

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