Posted by: Patricia Salkin | November 9, 2020

PA Appeals Court Holds Town Council Erred in Failing to Grant Transitional Living Facility Site-Specific Relief

This post was authored by Matthew Loscher, Esq.

Bloomsburg Industrial Ventures, LLC (“BIV”) owned a 1.156-acre tract of land in the Town of Bloomsburg, which was located partly in the Town’s Industrial Park (“I-P”) Zoning District and partly in its Business Campus (“BC”) Zoning District. The property was improved with an existing 40,000-square-foot building, between both zoning districts, which BIV proposed to use as a 168-bed transitional living facility. BIV made a substantive validity challenge to Town Council, pursuant to Section 609.1 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”), claiming the related Ordinance was unconstitutionally exclusionary and requesting a curative amendment to add transitional living facility as a permitted use within the Town’s BC Zoning District. In two consolidated cases, the Town Council of Bloomsburg denied BIV’s curative amendment challenges to the validity of the Bloomsburg Zoning Ordinance, which was adopted while BIV’s appeal of its curative amendment was pending. The Court of Common Pleas affirmed.

The record reflected that at the time BIV submitted its substantive validity challenges, the Ordinance failed to specifically list either transitional living facility or homeless shelter as a permitted use in any of the Town’s zoning districts. BIV contended that Town Council erred in finding that a transitional living facility use and a homeless shelter use may be allowed as an “accessory use” or “continuum of care” use in the Town’s HE-C Zoning District. Conversely, the Town argued that both types of uses qualified as a “continuum of care” use and that a “continuum of care” use was accessory to a hospital use in the HE-C Zoning District. The court noted that while some of the individuals served by the homeless shelter could be frail and chronically ill, neither the Town nor the trial court offered any explanation or justification in the record to support the position that a use that provides housing and meals to homeless individuals qualifies as one providing services for the “frail and chronically ill.” Therefore, a homeless shelter was determined not to be a “continuum of care” use and was found to be an accessory use to a hospital in the HE-C Zoning District. Accordingly, the court held that Town Council erred in failing to grant BIV site-specific relief, subject to compliance with other applicable ordinances in effect on the date of the original curative amendment applications.

Lastly, BIV proposed, as part of its curative amendment, to add Section 27-407 to the Ordinance, which would apply to all existing split-zoned buildings located in all of the Town’s zoning districts. However, the defect BIV sought to cure was that a transitional living facility was not a permitted use in any one zoning district in the Town, not that it was not permitted in a building that straddled two zoning districts. Thus, the portion of BIV’s curative amendment that proposed to add Section 27-407 to the Ordinance did not appropriately cure the exclusionary defect, but went beyond the relief necessary for such a cure. The court therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings pertaining to BIV’s site-specific relief.

Bloomsburg Industrial Ventures, LLC v Town of Bloomsburg, 2020 WL 6494884 (PA Cmwlth 11/5/2020)


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