Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County in case of St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church v. The Zoning Hearing Board of Easttown Township, No. 280 July Term, 1976.
John S. Halsted, with him Kevin Holleran, and Gawthrop & Greenwood, for appellant.
Richard T. Abell, with him John P. Knox, and Timoney, Knox, Hasson & Weand, for appellee.
William H. Lamb, with him Lamb, Windle & McErlane, for amicus curiae, Easttown Citizens Group.
Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Blatt and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Wilkinson, Jr.
[ 43 Pa. Commw. Page 160]
St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church (appellee) is the owner of two contiguous tracts of land, comprising a total of seven acres, bisected by the boundary line of Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships in Chester County. Approximately five acres of appellee's land is located on the Tredyffrin side where appellee maintains its house of worship and an administration building. A large residential dwelling,
[ 43 Pa. Commw. Page 161]
originally constructed in the colonial era and popularly known as "Conestoga Corners," is located on the two-acre tract in Easttown Township. Appellee has used the residence as a meeting place for various church-related and church-sponsored activities since 1969 when the property was purchased from a former pastor. Appellee now proposes to use the property as a group home for boys.
Following the denial of a use permit by the Easttown Township zoning officer, appellee sought a permit or a special exception from the Zoning Hearing Board of Easttown Township (Board). Briefly, appellee contended that the use of "Conestoga Corners" as a group home was permitted in an R 1 district in which the property was located as a "single family dwelling" within the meaning of the Easttown Zoning Ordinance, or alternatively that the group home should be permitted as an accessory use to the main church property located in Tredyffrin Township.
At the hearing before the Board, held on May 13, 1976, the lay president of the congregation testified appellee's proposal resulted from the desire of the church's governing body to utilize the building as part of its "community-oriented, social outreach" program. He testified the church planned to lease the property to Kimber-Vu Group Homes, Inc. (Kimber-Vu), a non-profit organization which would operate the home, staff it with house parents and counselors and obtain funding from state and federal agencies. A member of the congregation and a representative of neighbors in the area would serve on the board of directors of the organization. The executive director of Kimber-Vu testified that approximately eight boys, aged 12 to 15, would live at the home for optimum periods of one year. The youths would be chosen by the Chester County Juvenile Probation Office as "status offenders" whose conduct did not warrant institutionalization.
[ 43 Pa. Commw. Page 162]
The Board held that the proposed group home was not permitted in an R 1 district as a single family dwelling, as a religious use or as an accessory thereto. On appeal, the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, without taking additional testimony, concluded appellee's proposed use of the property constituted a valid accessory to a religious use and accordingly reversed the Board and directed the necessary permit be issued. The court declined to ...