Validity Variance Relief

Hunt v. The Zoning Hearing Board of Conewago Township, 2013 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 39, 61 A.3d 380 (2013)

This matter addressed the issue of whether a local zoning ordinance requiring all residential lots to abut a public road as a condition to their use for residential purposes was confiscatory, thereby entitling the owners of landlocked parcels to a validity variance.  Scott A. Hunt, Vicki E. Hunt and Sandra R. Glick (“Owners”) were the individual owners of a total of three parcels of real property (“Parcels”) situated in Conewago Township (“Township”), York County, Pennsylvania.  The Parcels are situated in the Township’s C-v conservation district, and are part of a subdivision created in the late 1800s.  Access to the Parcels is achieved by passing over the lands of an adjoining property owner by virtue of a fifty-foot wide easement.

In the 2000s, the Township passed an amendment to its zoning ordinance (“Ordinance”) requiring that all lots situated in the C-v district abut a public roadway in order to be used for residential purposes.  In response, the owners requested a determination from the Township’s zoning hearing officer that the Parcels were not subject to this requirement due to their having access to a public road by virtue of the easement.  The zoning officer concluded that, since the language of the Ordinance required lots to abut a public road in order to be used for residential purposes, the Parcels were non-compliant, and could not be used for residential purposes.  The owners then appealed to the Township’s Zoning Hearing Board (“Board”) seeking, inter alia, variances from the Ordinance to permit for residential construction on the Parcels or, in the alternative, validity variances establishing their right to use the Parcels for residential purposes.  After conducting a hearing, the Board denied all of the Owners’ requests, concluding that the Ordinance was clear on its face and that, as there was no dispute that the Parcels did not abut a public road, they could not be used for residential purposes.  The Owners then appealed to the York County Court of Common Pleas, which affirmed.

On appeal, our Commonwealth Court reversed.  In issuing its ruling the court noted that, in order to establish its right to a validity variance, an applicant need not satisfy all of the elements required for a standard use or dimensional variance.  Rather, an applicant for a validity variance must establish that the zoning regulation from which it seeks relief is “restrictive to the point of confiscation” and that the issuance of a validity variance is necessary to permit a reasonable use of its land.   In this instance, the Ordinance precluded any type of use on parcels that did not abut a public road and, as the Owners’ Parcels are not located adjacent to a public road, essentially rendered them unusable and valueless.  For these reasons, the Ordinance was confiscatory in nature, and the Owners were entitled to their requested validity variance relief.
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