Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the case of Appeal of Amoco Oil Company from Ross Township Zoning Hearing Board, No. S.A. 706 of 1977.
Victor R. Delle Donne, Baskin and Sears, for appellant.
William W. Milnes, Brandt, Milnes, Rea & Malone, with him Harry J. Gruener, Litman, Litman, Harris & Specter, for appellees.
President Judge Crumlish and Judges Rogers and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish.
[ 57 Pa. Commw. Page 377]
The Allegheny County Common Pleas Court affirmed the Ross Township Zoning Board's denial of a special exception and the variances necessary to modify an oil company service station from full to self-service. We reverse.
Amoco Oil Company's full service gasoline station, consisting of a station building with repair bays and two pump islands, is a legal non-conforming use in an area zoned C-1 Highway Commercial District under the Ross Township Zoning Ordinance. Located on a major highway in Ross Township, this narrow, shoeshaped corner property contains a station building at the forty-three feet deep larger end and pumps along the twenty-six feet narrower end, all parallel to the major highway. A fourteen-feet high retaining wall along the border separates the operation from a neighboring restaurant.
[ 57 Pa. Commw. Page 378]
Amoco's special exception proposes to convert the existing use to self-service by razing the old facilities. The variances will allow for certain traffic safety improvements, price sign changes, the installation of new pumps, a small cashier's booth, a protective canopy over the pump islands, and the necessary reduction in the 30-foot C-1 setback requirement.
Following the Zoning Hearing Board denial, the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court appointed a land use referee to take testimony de novo. Modifying the referee's tentative decision, the court concluded that Amoco not only failed to justify its request on the expansion of trade doctrine by showing that self-service conversion was compelled by trade increases, but it could not demonstrate a hardship special to the property.
Amoco argues that, given the odd shape and narrow size of the subject property, the confiscatory effect of a literal application of all the zoning ordinance's yard requirements, and the trend of Pennsylvania law to extend non-conforming uses to accommodate modernization and increased trade, the lower court, by its refusal, erred. The Township responds that the natural expansion doctrine is inapplicable since Amoco does not really need to service increased trade but merely seeks to increase its profits. We cannot agree.
Historically, Pennsylvania's well-established doctrine allowing the expansion of non-conforming uses has uniformly accommodated the needs of natural expansion and increased trade. In Gilfillan's Permit, 291 Pa. 358, 140 A. 136 (1927), our Supreme Court approved the construction of a cement warehouse to ...