Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 17, 2016

PA Appeals Court Holds Merger of Lots Doctrine was Inapplicable

Valley View Developers (Applicant), had an agreement to purchase the Property from the Estate of Milton B. Parker, and applied for dimensional variances to construct a new two-story dwelling on an undersized lot in the R-2 district. Applicant sought: (i) a variance of 2 plus or minus feet from the minimum side yard requirement of 20 feet; (ii) a variance of 38 plus or minus feet from the minimum side yard aggregate requirement of 60 feet; and (iii) a variance from the minimum lot size of 14,000 square feet (0.321 acres) to the existing lot area of 10,314 square feet (0.237 acres). On appeal, the Estate argued that the trial court erred as a matter of law when it affirmed the January 9, 2015 order issued by the Nether Providence Township Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) concluding that 306 West Rose Valley Road and 304 West Rose Valley Road (the Property) had merged into a single lot, thereby denying the Estate dimensional variances to construct a single-family residence on the Property.

The court found a merger presumption would contravene the longstanding principle that whether or not a lot retains an exception from conformance because its area or dimension predates a zoning ordinance is not personal to the owner, but runs with the land. Moreover, the court noted that the merger of lots doctrine has no application in the absence of a merger of lots provision in the zoning ordinance adopted by the local governing body in the jurisdiction where the lots are located as the common law may not be employed to restrict the use of nonconforming lots; any restriction is purely statutory and is a matter committed to the legislative discretion of local governing bodies by the MPC.

Here, because the governing body of Nether Province Township had not adopted a merger of lots provision, the merger of lots doctrine was inapplicable, and the Trial Court therefore erred in remanding this matter to the ZHB to make additional factual findings to determine whether a merger of lots had taken place. Additionally, the court reversed the order of the trial court and remanded with instructions to remand this matter to the ZHB to issue a written decision granting or denying the Estate dimensional variances to construct a single-family residence on the Property.

Loughran v Valley View Developers, Inc., 2016 WL 4386305 (PA Commwlth 8/17/2016)


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