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CLOVER HILL FARMS v. LEHIGH TOWNSHIP BOARD SUPERVISORS AND LEHIGH TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION (04/14/72)

decided: April 14, 1972.

CLOVER HILL FARMS, INC.
v.
LEHIGH TOWNSHIP BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AND LEHIGH TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, in case of Clover Hill Farms, Inc. v. Lehigh Township Board of Supervisors and Lehigh Township Planning Commission, No. 233, January Term, 1971.

COUNSEL

George A. Hahalis, with him Wallace C. Worth, Jr., for appellant.

Donald B. Corriere, with him Haber and Corriere, for appellees.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Blatt. Judge Rogers concurs in result only.

Author: Blatt

[ 5 Pa. Commw. Page 240]

The appellant, Clover Hill Farms, Inc., is the owner of a tract of land consisting of 160 acres, located in Lehigh Township, Northampton County, and acquired in 1965 for the sole purpose of development as a mobile home park. In 1965, the appellant expended approximately $3,000 in drawing up plans, making percolation tests, and digging three wells on the property. It also notified the Lehigh-Northampton Joint Planning Commission, a regional planning agency, of its plans for the tract and received advice as to the procedures to follow in order to obtain Commission approval. Financial difficulties were encountered, however, and the appellant had to suspend site development until 1970. When the appellant's project was begun in 1965 there was no zoning in Lehigh Township. In 1968, however, the Township Board of Supervisors adopted a comprehensive

[ 5 Pa. Commw. Page 241]

    plan and zoning ordinance which placed the appellant's tract in an agricultural district, where mobile home parks were not permitted.

In December 1970, the appellant, having obtained sufficient financing to complete its projected mobile home park, and having also learned of the zoning ordinance, requested the Township Board of Supervisors to rezone the property so as to permit its use as originally planned by the appellant. This request was referred to the Township Planning Commission, which recommended against approval, and the appellant was thereafter notified by the Supervisors that they concurred with the Planning Commission and would neither rezone the property, nor hold a public hearing on the matter.

The refusal of the Supervisors to rezone was appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, and the Supervisors and the Planning Commission then obtained a rule to show cause why the appeal should not be quashed. After a hearing, the Court made the rule absolute and dismissed the appeal.

At no time did the appellant seek a building permit or a variance. It is the appellant's contention, however, that it had a vested right to use its property as a mobile home park because of the activities it began in 1965, three years prior to the passage of the zoning ordinance. This argument, however, seems clearly without merit. As Justice Stearne said in Dunlap Appeal, 370 Pa. 31, 33, 87 A.2d 299, 301 (1952): "(A) vested right to build in futuro a structure which violates a zoning ordinance can only be acquired by first securing a permit and thereafter expending substantial funds in reliance thereon." Here the appellant's expenditure of $3,000 on activities which were not unique to mobile home parks, and could even have been applicable to permitted uses, was clearly not sufficient to

[ 5 Pa. Commw. Page 242]

    establish a pre-existing usage as a mobile home park. Moreover, the appellant's claim that the 1968 zoning ordinance was invalid as being special legislation of a discriminatory character seems likewise without merit. Commercial Properties, Inc. v. Peternel, 418 Pa. 304, 211 A.2d 514 (1965); Linda Development Corp. v. Plymouth Township, 3 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 334, 281 A.2d 784 (1971). In these cases it was clear that the zoning ordinances constituted special legislation, enacted for the sole purpose of preventing the lawful use of the land by the respective parties. The appellant here has failed to ...


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