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Township v. Zoning Hearing Board of Lancaster Township

May 27, 2010

LANCASTER TOWNSHIP, APPELLANT
v.
THE ZONING HEARING BOARD OF LANCASTER TOWNSHIP, TIMOTHY O. GROSICK AND CHERYL J. GROSICK



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Butler

Argued: April 19, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Lancaster Township (Township) appeals the August 13, 2009 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County (trial court) denying the Township's challenge to the Zoning Hearing Board's (Board) determination that Timothy O. and Cheryl J. Grosick's (Appellees) use of their storage garage to park three truck cabs and four trailers used in the operation of their interstate trucking business was a permitted use. The issues raised are: 1) whether the use of a building on a residentially-zoned property to house trucks used in the operation of the owner's interstate trucking business qualifies as a private garage and/or an accessory use; and 2) whether the use of a farm building on an agriculturally-zoned property to house truck cabs and trailers used in the operation of the owner's interstate trucking business is a permitted agricultural use. For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court.

Appellees own 62 acres of land in Lancaster Township, Butler County. On September 8, 2008, they applied for a permit to build an 80 foot by 40 foot steel building for farm use. Mr. Grosick operates an interstate trucking business, and owns three tractors and four trailers (collectively, trucks) that he and his son use to transport freight to and from third parties. Only Mr. Grosick and his son work for the company, and there are no plans to hire any employees. Mr. Grosick planned to use the building to store farm equipment, and to store and maintain the trucks. During construction of the building, the Township informed Appellees that parking the trucks in the building would violate the Township's zoning ordinance prohibiting commercial uses on residential property.

On February 26, 2009, Appellees applied to the Board for a use variance that would permit them to park the trucks in the building. A public hearing was held on March 26, 2009, after which the Board determined that Appellees' use of the building to store farm equipment and the trucks was a permitted accessory use under the Lancaster Township Zoning Ordinance (Ordinance). In addition, the Board granted Appellees a conditional use variance permitting the use of the building to store the trucks. On April 23, 2009, the Township filed an appeal from the Board's decision, arguing that the Board abused its discretion in granting the use variance.*fn1

Appellees intervened, arguing that, while their application to the Board was technically for a variance, they were more accurately seeking a Board interpretation of the Ordinance, and a determination of whether their proposed use was permitted.

The trial court determined that the Board had substantial evidence to support its determination that the building and its use were permissible under the Ordinance, and to deny the Township's appeal concerning the permitted use. The trial court also determined that the Board abused its discretion in granting the use variance because there was no determination that there was an unnecessary hardship that was not created by Appellees, and it granted the Township's appeal concerning the use variance.*fn2 The Township appealed to this Court.*fn3

The Township argues that the Board abused its discretion by ignoring controlling precedent and the clear provisions of the Ordinance and holding that a building located on a residentially-zoned property and used to house a fleet of commercial vehicles used in the operation of an interstate trucking business carried on by the property owner qualified as a private garage and/or an accessory use. We agree with the Township.

It is well settled that a zoning hearing board's interpretation of its own zoning ordinance is entitled to great weight and deference from a reviewing court. This principle is also codified in Section 1921(c)(8) of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972, 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(c)(8). The basis for the judicial deference is the knowledge and expertise that a zoning hearing board possesses to interpret the ordinance that it is charged with administering.

Smith v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of Huntingdon Borough, 734 A.2d 55, 57-58 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999) (citations and footnote omitted). The Ordinance in this case defines an accessory use as "[a] use customarily associated with and customarily incidental and subordinate to the principal use and located on the same lot with such principal use." Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 59a. It further provides a list of permitted accessory uses which includes, inter alia, private garages, carports, sheds, and domestic storage buildings. R.R. at 62a. The Ordinance defines a "private garage" as "[a]n accessory building or portion of the principal building enclosed on not fewer than three sides, designed or used for shelter or storage of private vehicles and personal property of the occupants of the principal building, and not accessible to the general public." R.R. at 61a.

There is case law, however, which the Township used to support its position, indicating that the storage or parking of commercial vehicles does not satisfy the definition of an accessory use. In Taddeo v. Commonwealth, 412 A.2d 212 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980), this Court determined that the storage of equipment used in the property owner's asphalt business was neither incidental to, nor customary in, a residential area, and thus, was not an accessory use. The trial court found that the residential property was being used for commercial purposes, and those uses violated the local ordinance. This Court agreed with the trial court, and specifically stated that:

The use of the equipment parked at Appellant's home and in the vacant lot adjacent to it is such an integral part of Appellant's business, which is certainly commercial in nature, as to be inseparable from that business. By parking the equipment at his residence, Appellant has transferred that part of his commercial ...


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