Entitlement to Site-Specific Relief

Appeal of Chester County Outdoor, LLC, 2013 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 79 (2013)

This matter addressed the issue of whether a party successfully challenging the validity of a zoning ordinance was entitled to site-specific relief where its challenge did not include a request for such relief.  Chester County Outdoor, LLC (“CCO”) is an entity engaged in the development, operation, construction and maintenance of billboards.  In the course of its operations, CCO entered into a lease to construct a billboard on certain real property (“Property”) situated at 27 Commerce Boulevard in Penn Township (“Township”), Chester County, Pennsylvania.  The Township’s zoning ordinance (“Ordinance”) did not make any provision for the construction or operation of billboards within the Township and, in response, CCO filed a validity challenge with the Township’s Zoning Hearing Board (“Board”) pursuant to Section 10916.1(a)(1) of the Municipalities Planning Code (53 P.S. §10916.1(a)(1)), asserting that the section of the Ordinance governing advertising signs unlawfully excluded billboards.  CCO’s challenge as filed included proposed plans for the billboard that it sought to construct on the Property.

The Board conducted a hearing on CCO’s validity challenge, at which hearing CCO withdrew the plans that it had submitted for the proposed billboard.  Thereafter, the Board proceeded solely on the validity challenge and issued a decision holding that the section of the Ordinance governing advertising signs was exclusionary and would be stricken.  However, in its decision, the Board further noted that, had CCO not withdrawn its application for site-specific relief, the application would have been denied as the proposed billboard did not comply with applicable set-back requirements.  CCO filed an appeal to the Chester County Court of Common Pleas asserting that it was entitled to site-specific relief, which appeal the court dismissed, concluding that CCO lacked standing to challenge the Board’s determinations.

On appeal, our Commonwealth Court affirmed.  In issuing its ruling the court noted that, in order to have standing to challenge the determinations of a zoning hearing board, a party must have a direct interest in the question litigated.  In this instance, the only issue before the Board was the validity of the section of the Ordinance governing advertising signs, an issue that the Board had decided in CCO’s favor.  The fact that the Board’s decision included a statement that CCO would not have been entitled to the site-specific relief it had previously sought did not make CCO an aggrieved party, as the application for site-specific relief had been withdrawn and was not before the Board.  Rather, the Board’s reference to CCO’s application amounted to nothing more than dictum advising CCO that, in its current form, its plans for the proposed billboard would not satisfy other provisions of the Ordinance.  Therefore, as the Board did not deny CCO’s request for site-specific relief, it was not an aggrieved party, and lacked standing to challenge the Board’s decision.
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