Lancaster Township v. Zoning Hearing Board of Lancaster Township Pa. Commonwealth Court (May 27, 2010)

August 2010Newsletters In the Zone

In this case, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld its prior decisions in affirming that the parking of vehicles used in a residential landowner's business is commercial in nature and the storage of such vehicles is not permitted in residential zoning districts as it is neither incidental to nor customary in a residential area.

The landowner owned 62 acres of land in Lancaster Township, Butler County, where he operated an interstate trucking business. As part of the business, the landowner owned three tractors and four trailers that he used to transport freight. The landowner applied for a permit to build an 80-foot by 40-foot steel building to store the tractors and trailers and in which he planned to store farm equipment. During construction of the building, the landowner was notified by the township that parking the tractors and trailers in the building would violate the township's zoning ordinance, which prohibited commercial uses on residential property.

The landowner applied to the township Zoning Hearing Board seeking a use variance to permit the parking of the tractors and trailers in the building. After a hearing, the Board determined the landowner's proposed use of the building was a permitted accessory use under the township zoning ordinance. Thereafter, the township appealed the Board's decision, arguing the Board abused its discretion in granting the variance. The landowner intervened in the appeal.

The trial court found there was substantial evidence to support the Board's determination that the building and its use were permissible under the zoning ordinance. However, the trial court also found the Board abused its discretion in granting the use variance because there was no determination that an unnecessary hardship was not created by the landowner.

The township appealed the trial court's decision to the Commonwealth Court, arguing the Board abused its discretion by ignoring controlling precedent and the clear provisions of the ordinance in determining that a building located on residentially owned property and used to house a fleet of commercial vehicles in the operation of an interstate trucking business qualified as a private garage and/or an accessory use.

The Commonwealth Court held the trailers and trucks used by the landowner were so integral to his business that they were commercial in nature, and parking them in a residential area was neither incidental nor customary to their residential properties. In making this determination, the court relied on its prior decisions in Taddeo v. Commonwealth, 412 A.2d 212 (Pa. Commw. 1980) (holding the storage of equipment used in a landowner's asphalt business was neither incidental to, nor customary, in a residential area, and thus, was not an accessory use), Galliford v. Commonwealth, 430 A.2d 1222 (Pa. Commw. 1981) (holding the landowner violated the zoning ordinance by allowing his son to park his tractor trailer in the landowner's driveway because the tractor trailer was unquestionably commercial in nature and neither incidental nor accessory to the residential character of the property), Dech v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of Lynn Township, 512 A.2d 1352 (Pa. Commw. 1986) (holding that parking vehicles used in a residential landowner's business was commercial in nature and the storage of such vehicles was neither incidental to nor customary in a residential area) and Reardon v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of Town of McCandless, 756 A.2d 1108 (Pa. Commw. 1999) (holding the landowner who parked his commercial vehicle behind his home was operating a business by transferring commercial equipment to the property in violation of residential zoning ordinances).

The township also argued on appeal that the Board abused its discretion in ruling the use of a farm building to house a fleet of nonagricultural commercial vehicles was permitted as a matter of right in the agricultural district. Although the landowner argued the trucks that would be stored in the building would be used to transport hay and fertilizer, the main use of the trucks was not for farm-related purposes. Therefore, the court held it was not reasonable to consider their storage an agricultural use and, therefore, the court again found that the Board abused its discretion.

For more information, please contact Kimberly A. Freimuth at 215.918.3627 or [email protected].