Standing to Appeal a Zoning Hearing Board Decision
The Commonwealth Court issued an interesting unreported decision with regard to a neighbor’s standing to appeal a Zoning Hearing Board Decision. The case is In Re: Appeal of Roseanne Adams, 141 C.D. 2019, (Pa. Cmwlth. December 21, 2020).
Janice Yager owns a house on Hamilton Street in Philadelphia and also owns a vacant lot next door. Yager applied for permits to use the vacant lot as non-accessory private parking with a six foot fence and gate. The City denied the request as not in compliance with the Zoning Code. Yager appealed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. At the hearing, Yager testified that she wanted to park on the vacant lot due to the difficulty finding street parking and her husband’s recent Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Adams was the sole objector to the variance request and testified that she and other neighbors, including Yager’s husband, negotiated a neighborhood development agreement (NDA) that restricted the vacant lot to a landscaped area until it was developed for a single family use. Adams also raised safety concerns about a bus stop at the corner near the property, utility poles, parked cars and heavy traffic in the vicinity of the property.
The ZBA granted the variance but limited the fence to 4 feet in height, required that parking be only for the residents of the adjacent home and the approval was only good for a 5 year term. Adams appealed the decision to the Court of Common Pleas. Yager intervened and filed a motion to quash arguing that Adams was not an aggrieved person and therefore did not have standing. The trial court did not rule on the motion to quash but instead affirmed the ZBA’s grant of a variance. The trial court also found that Adam’s involvement in the NDA did not grant her aggrieved party standing but did not make a determination regarding her standing based on her home’s proximity to the vacant lot or her participation in the hearing. On remand, the trial court granted the motion to quash finding that Adams lacked standing.
Before the Commonwealth Court, Adams argued that she had standing because her home was only 250 feet away from the vacant lot. Yager argued that Adams was not an “aggrieved person” because she did not suffer direct, immediate or substantial impact by the variance being granted. The Court held that Adam’s home, which was located between 250 feet and 350 feet away but on the opposite side of the street, was not sufficiently close to the vacant lot to confer standing based on proximity alone. Adams did not set forth a particular harm that she will suffer due to the use of the vacant lot. Her general concerns about safety are abstract interests of all citizens. Therefore, Adams lacked standing to appeal the ZBA decision.
Judge Fizzano Cannon filed a dissenting opinion stating that Adams established adequate close proximity to the vacant lot to confer standing. Additionally, Adams was involved in negotiating the NDA that specifically restricted the use of the vacant lot. While a zoning board cannot enforce the NDA, it demonstrates Adams’s substantial, direct and immediate interest that is beyond an abstract interest in the proceedings. Taken together, these items represent a particular harm that would confer standing upon Adams.
If this case is appealed it will be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court agrees to hear it, as both the majority and dissenting opinions present compelling arguments. Although it is an unreported decision, it could change the way Zoning Hearing Board’s consider the issue of standing and could lead to more challenges to standing at the trial court level.
This article is not legal advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.