Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County in case of Joseph H. Swift, et al. v. Zoning Hearing Board of Abington Township and Crestmont Half-Way House, Intervenor, No. 72-1782.
Clarke F. Hess, with him Butera & Detwiler, for appellants.
Daniel B. Michie, Jr., for appellee.
Lowell A. Reed, Jr., with him Rawle & Henderson, for intervenor.
President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Judge Kramer did not participate. Opinion by Judge Blatt.
[ 16 Pa. Commw. Page 358]
This is an appeal by Joseph H. Swift and other neighborhood residents (appellants) from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County. That court, after taking additional evidence in an appeal from a ruling the Zoning Hearing Board of Abington Township (Board), sustained the conclusion of the Board that the use of property by the Crestmont Half-Way House, here an intervenor, was a "community center or similar use" as permitted by the Township zoning ordinance.
Our review in a zoning appeal where the lower court took additional evidence is to determine whether the lower court committed an error of law or abused its discretion. Camp Hill Development Co., Inc. v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, 13 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 519, 319 A.2d 197 (1974). This case is, for the most part, one involving a question of law: Is the Crestmont Half-Way House being used as a community center or for a similar use as permitted within the scope of the Abington Township Zoning Code?
The building in question is a two-story house, the first floor of which is occupied by the intervenor and used as the Crestmont Half-Way House. The second floor is a single family apartment unit and its use is not challenged. The Crestmont Half-Way House is a non-profit association formed to combat drug abuse through the education of non-addicts and parents, through the counseling of addicts and former addicts, and through referring persons seeking additional help to outside legal, medical, and counseling services. The association seeks to structure the idle time of persons it serves by providing employment and recreational referrals. Its facilities consist of offices, counseling
[ 16 Pa. Commw. Page 359]
rooms, and a conference room for group sessions. It is open from noon to 11:00 p.m. daily and is staffed by adults and youths, including former addicts, recovering addicts, and non-addicts. The neighborhood surrounding the subject property includes predominantly residential homes, with interspersed apartment units and small retail stores. The property itself falls within a district zoned F-1 Commercial. Section 1101 of which applies to this property, and provides that: "A building . . . may be erected or used . . . for any of the following purposes and no other:
"(8) Township administrative building, public library, community center, fire or police station, post office, public parking lot, or any similar use."
Neither the term "community center" nor the phrase "similar use" is defined in the ordinance, and without such limiting definitions the permissive nature of these phrases must be taken in their broadest sense. Lower Providence Township v. Ford, 3 Pa. Common-Ct. 380, 283 A.2d 731 (1971). To be a valid use within the scope of the ordinance, therefore, it was not necessary that the Crestmont Half-Way House be a "community center" per se. Rather, it was only necessary that it be a similar use or a use similar to any of the others designated by the ordinance, such as a fire station, a public library, or even a parking lot. All of the ...