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decided: October 15, 1987.


Appeal from the August 22, 1985 Order Entered by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania at No. 37 C.D. 1985 that reversed the December 3, 1984, Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Civil Division, at No. S.A. 654 of 1984, and remanded. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion in which McDermott, J., joined. Papadakos, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Zappala

[ 516 Pa. Page 77]


This is an appeal from an order of the Commonwealth Court, 91 Pa. Commw. 293, 496 A.2d 1361, reversing and remanding a decision of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. The question we are called upon to decide is whether the Appellant met its burden of proof of showing that the placement of a pre-release center for state prisoners in a Pittsburgh neighborhood would pose a substantial threat to the community. We hold that Appellant did not meet that burden, and accordingly, affirm the decision of the Commonwealth Court.

On November 21, 1983, Appellee filed a conditional use application, seeking to use property located at 108-110 Miltenberger Street, Pittsburgh, as a pre-release center for state prisoners. A similar facility had been operated by Appellee at another Pittsburgh location (Ridge Avenue) without incident since 1969; however, because the Ridge Avenue property was being sold, Appellee wished to relocate

[ 516 Pa. Page 78]

    to the Miltenberger Street site. The Miltenberger property is located in the Soho/Bluff area of Pittsburgh which is zoned a C-3 commercial district. Under Section 993.01(a)(A)(10) of the Pittsburgh Zoning Ordinance, institutional facilities are permitted in C-3 districts as a conditional use.

A hearing was held before the City Planning Commission on January 24, 1984 and February 7, 1984. At that time, persons who objected to the placement of the facility in the neighborhood were allowed to give testimony indicating why they did not want the center in the community. Thereafter, the Commission recommended denial of Appellee's application. In March, 1984, City Council reviewed the Commission's recommendation, and referred the matter back to the Commission requesting that a meeting be held with all of the interested parties in order to resolve the objections to the facility. R. 76a. The Commission rejected that request, however, and City Council then voted to accept the Commission's recommendation and deny Appellee's application. R. 77a.*fn1

Appellee appealed City Council's decision to the Court of Common Pleas. That court took no additional evidence and affirmed the denial of the application. Appellee then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which reversed the decision of the Court of Common Pleas and remanded with the direction that the application for conditional use be granted. Appellant now appeals from that decision.

The basis of the Commonwealth Court's decision was that the objectors to the facility had failed to meet their burden of showing that the facility would pose a substantial threat to the community. That court's scope of review, and ours, is limited to determining whether an abuse of discretion or

[ 516 Pa. Page 79]

    error of law has been committed. See, Lower Merion Township v. Enokay, Inc., 427 Pa. 128, 233 A.2d 883 (1967). Only if the findings of City Council are unsupported by substantial evidence may we hold that there has been an abuse of discretion. See, Valley View Civic Association v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, 501 Pa. 550, 462 A.2d 637 (1983).

A conditional use is one which, under the Pittsburgh Zoning Ordinance, must be approved by City Council. More specifically, the ordinance reads:

(a) Conditional Uses Permitted by Council Approval. The uses named in this category are in general those of a public or semi-public character, deemed to be essential and desirable for the general convenience and welfare, and because of the nature of the use and/or its relationship to the overall plan, require the exercise of planning judgment on location and site plan. Specific conditions to be met are listed as minimum requirements.

A. Location and specific requirements. The uses listed hereunder and the establishment or enlargement thereof may be permitted in the districts herein and previously designated, by Council, when the specific conditions for approval have been met, after a public hearing and recommendation of the Commission.

Pittsburgh Zoning Ordinance, Chapter 993.01(a)(A).

An applicant for a conditional use must prove that the standards set forth in the zoning ordinance were met. Greensburg City Planning Commission v. Threshold, Inc., 12 Pa. Commw. 104, 315 A.2d 311 (1974). After the applicant has met those standards, to defeat the application evidence must be produced showing that the proposed use would pose a substantial threat to the community. Susquehanna Township Board of Commissioner v. Hardee's Food Systems, Inc., 59 Pa. Commw. 479, 430 A.2d 367 (1981). If ...

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