Appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, in case of Grace Lipari v. Zoning Hearing Board of City of Easton and The Antonian, Ltd., No. 1986-410.
Philip D. Lauer, Philip D. Lauer, P.C., for appellant/appellee, protestants.
Herbert V. Giobbi, with him, Joel H. Ziev, Ziev, Giobbi & McFadden, for appellee/appellant, applicant.
Judges Craig, Colins and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Craig.
[ 101 Pa. Commw. Page 304]
This zoning appeal presents an example of the issue which classically arises in our review of variances: Where a zoning hearing board has granted variances allowing (1) a high-rise apartment building in a residential district in which only single-family and two-family dwellings are listed as permitted residential uses, and (2) a 60% increase in building height over the maximum allowable height, are those variances supported by findings which demonstrate any unique physical circumstances or conditions peculiar to the particular property which would result in hardship -- inability to make a reasonable use of the property -- if the variances were not granted?
The trial court's opinion well summarized the background facts of this case by stating: "The subject of this appeal is a tract of land situated at the southeast corner of Ninth and Washington Streets in Easton, which has been donated to The Antonian, Ltd. by St. Anthony's Catholic Church. The property is located in an R-MD, residential-medium density, zoning district. The Antonian, Ltd., a non-profit corporation, planned to build upon that site a federally subsidized seven-story apartment building for the elderly."
"In order to construct the building as planned, The Antonian, Ltd. applied to the Zoning Hearing Board of the City of Easton for use, height and yard variances, and a special exception for reduction of required parking."
According to section 1335.01 of the Easton Zoning Ordinance, the only permitted principal uses in the R-MD residential district, aside from public facilities, are single-family dwellings, two-family dwellings, churches
[ 101 Pa. Commw. Page 305]
and church schools. High-rise apartment buildings are therefore prohibited; although special exception sections 1309.18 and 1335.03 provide for conditional approval of garden type apartments, those provisions are not applicable here because they relate only to low-rise multiple dwellings.
The elderly housing high-rise proposal is for a building which would contain fifty housing units and be sixty-four feet high, a 60% increase in height beyond the forty-foot maximum allowed for multi-family dwelling by section 1335.04 of the zoning ordinance.
The Antonian's special exception request is one which seeks to reduce the minimum number of required off-street parking spaces from one per housing unit (fifty) to forty-three, under section 1309.24 of the zoning ordinance, allowing reduction of off-street parking space minimum with respect to "public housing for the elderly."
Pursuant to a hearing, the zoning hearing board granted all of the variances sought, as well as the special exception for off-street parking. Objecting residents of the neighborhood appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County. Without receiving any additional evidence, that court affirmed the board's decision, and the objectors have appealed to this court.*fn1
The trial judge, noting that he had received no additional testimony concerning the merits of the appeal, correctly expressed the scope of judicial review as follows:
With the state of the record thus clarified, our standard of review is ...