Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the case of Christ United Methodist Church and the Wesley Institute, Inc. v. Borough of Bethel Park, No. SA 974 of 1978 and in the case of Christ United Methodist Church and the Wesley Institute, Inc. v. Zoning Hearing Board of the Municipality of Bethel Park, No. SA 1074 of 1978.
Victor R. Delle Donne, Baskin and Sears, for appellant.
Jack W. Plowman, Plowman and Spiegel, for appellees.
Thomas F. Halloran, Assistant Attorney General, with him Frank P. Tuplin, Assistant Attorney General, for intervenor.
Harry F. Swanger, with him Robin Russel Vandercoy, for amicus curiae.
Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Williams, Jr. and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail. This decision was reached prior to the expiration of the term of office of Judge Wilkinson, Jr.
[ 58 Pa. Commw. Page 612]
The Municipality of Bethel Park (Appellant) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County which sustained the appeals of Christ United Methodist Church and the Wesley Institute, Inc. (Appellees). The Court below adopted the findings of fact and law submitted by a referee and in so doing reversed both the denial of a curative amendment by Appellant and the denial of an occupancy permit by the Zoning Hearing Board of Bethel Park.
On October 13, 1978 Christ United Methodist Church purchased a tract of land in Bethel Park consisting of approximately one acre, on which a home, detached garage and shed are located. The Church plans to rent the premises to Wesley Institute, Inc., a private, non-profit corporation, for the purpose of operating a group home for juveniles who have been adjudicated delinquent. A maximum of eight juveniles would live in the home along with two "house-parents." Two child care workers and a coordinator
[ 58 Pa. Commw. Page 613]
would also be involved in operating the group home on a full-time basis. The subject property is located within an R-3 single-family residential zoning district.*fn1
Appellees applied for an occupancy permit which was denied by the municipality's zoning officer on the ground that a group home is a type of "institutional house," as defined by the municipality's zoning ordinance, and that the subject property did not meet the area requirements for that use. Appellees appealed the denial to the Zoning Hearing Board which, after hearings on the appeal, granted Appellees' request for a continuance in order to permit Appellees to seek a curative amendment, relative to the ordinance's alleged exclusion of group homes, before the municipal council. A proposed curative amendment was subsequently submitted to the municipal council pursuant to Sections 609.1 and 1004 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Code (MPC), Act of July 31, 1968, P.L. 805, as amended, 53 P.S. §§ 10609.1 and 11004. Since the municipal council failed to act on the request within thirty days, the amendment was considered denied by operation of Section 1004(4)(iii) of the MPC, 53 P.S. § 11004(4)(iii). The Zoning Hearing Board subsequently considered and denied the grant of an occupancy permit to Appellees. Appellees filed timely appeals to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County ...