Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of Robert C. Boss and Marcella M. Boss, his wife, v. Zoning Hearing Board of the Borough of Bethel Park, No. SA 136 of 1977.
John Daley, Brennan, Robins & Daley, for appellants.
Victor R. Delle Donne, Baskin and Sears, for appellee.
President Judge Crumlish and Judges Mencer, Rogers, Blatt and Williams, Jr. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr. Judge Palladino did not participate in the decision in this case.
Robert C. and Marcella M. Boss (owners) appeal from an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court order dismissing their appeal from a Zoning Hearing Board (Board) decision which upheld the Borough of Bethel Park's*fn1 zoning ordinance. We reverse and remand.*fn2
The Borough Council denied the owners' request to have their property rezoned from single-family residential use to townhouse development. The owners then applied to the Board, challenging the Borough zoning ordinance's validity. After the Board denied their challenge, owners appealed to the common pleas court,*fn3 but the appeal was denied.
Owners' claim is two-fold: first, that the lower court erred procedurally by failing to decide the case on its merits although basing its opinion on facts developed through discovery after appeal was taken from the Board's decision; and, second, that the court committed substantive error by failing to sustain the challenge to the local zoning ordinance. Since we must remand because of procedural error, analysis of the substantive claim will not be undertaken.
When the court below considers additional evidence in a zoning appeal, we must determine on review whether that court committed legal error or abused its discretion. Appeal of Nardozza, 45 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 482, 483, 405 A.2d 1020, 1021 (1979). We conclude that legal error was made.
Although it is obvious that the lower court's decision rested, at least in part, on the Borough's answers to the owners' interrogatories, the judge limited his review to a determination of whether the Board had committed legal error or abused its discretion. Where the court below takes additional evidence in a zoning
appeal, it must decide the case on the merits. Lutz v. East Hanover Township Zoning Hearing Board, 17 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 501, 504, 333 A.2d 229, 230 (1975). Having taken additional evidence, it was the lower court's duty to determine the case de novo rather than to review only for the Board's possible commission of legal error or abuse of discretion. Pantry-Quik, Inc. v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, 1 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 326, 329, 274 A.2d 571, 572 (1971). As ...