Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 24, 2017

PA Appeals Court Holds that Condition of Buildings and Preservation Requirements for Redevelopment Did Not Result in Hardship Warranting Variances

Trek Development Group, Inc., The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA), and the City of Pittsburgh appealed from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County reversing the decision of the City’s Zoning Board of Adjustment – granting Trek’s variances and special exception. Specifically, Trek’s variance application sought to vary the floor area ratio requirement from 2:1 to 4.8:1 and the height requirement from 45 feet / 3 stories to 97 feet / 8 stories in order to develop a deteriorating property that had been vacant for a number of years. Trek’s special exception request sought to provide offsite parking for the proposed structure.
At the outset, the court noted that Appellants were not attempting to develop the Property in conformity with the Zoning Code, nor were Appellants attempting to merely maintain the existing non-conformity. Here, Straussman, URA’s Director, did not offer any testimony to support Appellants’ argument that the reason for preserving the Existing Buildings was based on URA’s enabling statute, the Urban Redevelopment Law (URL), or any other statutory mandate. Nevertheless, Appellants stated that the Board properly respected URA’s approach, finding that the existing buildings were part of the unique and historic character of the area and should be preserved. Appellants also contended that substantial evidence supported a finding that the hardship was not self-imposed because the URA spent considerable money preserving the existing buildings, community members supported the project, and two other parties had attempted, but failed, to preserve the existing buildings.
As the variances at issue were significant deviations from the Zoning Code, the City argued that Trek was actually seeking a rezoning and that the variances were not the minimum to afford relief. Despite the Board’s conclusion that any detrimental impact from the additional height and floor area ratio was outweighed by the benefits anticipated from the redevelopment of the Property, the Board made no specific findings concerning any benefits, anticipated or otherwise. In the absence of these findings, the court found the Board’s mere statement of anticipated benefits was speculative and insufficient. Accordingly, the court affirmed the decision of the Trial Court, which reversed the Board’s decision granting the Variances.
Demkov v City of Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment, 155 A.3d 1163 (PA Cmwlth 3/7/2017)

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