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06/30/97 EAST LAMPETER TOWNSHIP v. COUNTY LANCASTER

June 30, 1997

EAST LAMPETER TOWNSHIP, APPELLANT
v.
COUNTY OF LANCASTER, LANCASTER COUNTY HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION AND ALBERT C. HONDARES



Appealed From No. 5178-1996. Common Pleas Court of the County of Lancaster. Judge ALLISON.

Before: Honorable Joseph T. Doyle, Judge, Honorable Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter, Judge, Honorable Jess S. Jiuliante, Senior Judge. Opinion BY Senior Judge Jiuliante

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jiuliante

OPINION BY

SENIOR JUDGE JIULIANTE

FILED: June 30, 1997

In this case, the trial court was presented with a conflict concerning the legislative intent underlying two important State Acts, the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) *fn1 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (Human Relations Act), *fn2 and the interaction and jurisdiction of two influential local agencies, a county human relations commission and a township. *fn3 We must determine whether the trial court erred in determining that the township's attempt to invoke equity and the Declaratory Judgments Act (DJA) *fn4 was inappropriate where it alleged that the county human relations commission had no jurisdiction to consider a complaint alleging national-origin discrimination in the denial of a petition to rezone a tract of property.

East Lampeter Township (Township) appeals from the January 17, 1997 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County (trial court) granting the preliminary objections of the County of Lancaster, Lancaster County Human Relations Commission (LCHRC) and Albert C. Hondares (collectively "Appellees") to the Township's complaint in equity and petition for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment. We reverse.

BACKGROUND

In 1986, Mr. and Mrs. Hondares acquired by one deed two tracts of land in the Township. At that time, both tracts were zoned commercial. In 1990, the Township adopted a Revised Zoning Ordinance that changed the zoning of the Hondares' rear tract to rural but maintained the front tract as commercial. In 1992, the Hondares petitioned the Township Board of Supervisors to have the zoning of the rear tract changed from rural to commercial. The Board of Supervisors denied the petition to rezone and the Hondares did not appeal from that denial.

On June 9, 1993, Mr. Hondares filed a complaint with the LCHRC at docket No. 90-1993 alleging that the Township violated Lancaster County's Ordinance No. 30 by denying the 1992 petition to rezone a tract of land based on his national origin. *fn5 (R.R. 51-54a.) Specifically, he alleged that the Township's denial of the petition constituted unfair zoning and discrimination in the area of housing/public accommodation based on national origin.

The County established the LCHRC via Ordinance No. 30 and thereunder, the Board of Commissioners declared unlawful certain employment, housing, educational, public accommodation and real estate practices. (R.R. 13-42a.) Specifically at issue in this case is Section 4.9(b)(2) of the LCHRC's Regulations, which provides as follows:

(b) Activity by such governmental unit of the County of Lancaster which is prohibited when based upon a . . . person's protected class includes:

(2) . . . Consideration of the protected class of a person in the development or application of zoning or building codes, occupancy requirements, land use ...


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