Argued March 10, 2014
David J. Tshudy, Harrisburg, for Appellant.
Josele Cleary, Lancaster, for Appellee South Annville Township.
Michael H. Small, Palmyra, for Appellee Zoning Hearing Board of South Annville Township.
BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge.
MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge
Servants Oasis appeals an order of the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas (trial court) rejecting its application for a special exception to develop a religious retreat on its land in South Annville Township. In doing so, the trial court affirmed the decision of the South Annville Township Zoning Hearing Board (Zoning Board). Because Servants Oasis satisfied the objective criteria for a special exception found in the South Annville Township
Zoning Ordinance (Zoning Ordinance), we reverse.
Servants Oasis, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, proposes to develop a religious retreat on three contiguous parcels of land in Lebanon County (Property), of which approximately 153 acres are located in the Rural Residential District in South Annville Township. The Property is owned by Roy and Janice Smith and has been developed with a single-family home and several accessory buildings. The Smiths leased the Property to Servants Oasis in 1999 for a term of 20 years and have recently extended the lease for an additional 20 years.
The sole access to the Property is from Wild Apple Drive, which is a public road that intersects Route 322 and terminates in a cul-de-sac near the northeast corner of the Property. Gumtree Road is a private road on the Property that connects to Wild Apple Drive. The closest main road is Route 322, which is approximately 5,000 feet from the Property.
On March 4, 2011, Servants Oasis filed an application with the Zoning Board requesting a special exception to develop a religious retreat on the Property. The application stated that the maximum occupancy of the Property would be 297 persons at full build-out. The application explained that Servants Oasis planned to construct a building with overnight facilities for up to 93 guests. The retreat would be operated by volunteers for the foreseeable future and built in phases, depending on the availability of funding.
Currently, the Property has an on-lot sewage treatment system with capacity to serve 40 overnight campers or 50 daytime visitors. In its application, Servants Oasis included a water and sewer feasibility study for construction of a single community on-lot sewage disposal system, such as an elevated sand bed, to accommodate the additional visitors expected for the full build-out phase. This study reported that a packaged wastewater treatment plant would be too costly.
In response to questions from the Township engineer about the feasibility of on-lot sewage treatment, Servants Oasis did additional testing and submitted a revised sewer feasibility study on February 23, 2012. The February study reported that site testing did not produce a suitable place on the Property for an on-lot treatment system, as proposed in the application. It went on to report that a packaged wastewater treatment facility would be feasible based upon the limits provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for discharge into Buckholder Run, a stream that runs through the Property. The February study also stated that the packaged wastewater treatment system would meet DEP's effluent discharge but not " the effluent mass loading limitations for Total ...