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Pennsylvania zoning height dispute pits high school against town

Unionville High School is building a new auditorium that is giving East Marlborough Township, Pennsylvania, zoning law officials a $3.6 million headache. The township says the auditorium is too tall to be in compliance with municipal codes, but the school says its project was approved prior to construction.

The height of the auditorium is 58 feet. The height limit for new construction within the township is 35 feet. The township noticed the building's excess height during most of its construction phase and waited until the exterior of the auditorium was finished before sending a violation notice to the school district.

The East Marlborough township manager, who doubles as the township's zoning officer, said the height of the new structure was brought up in unofficial meetings zoning officials had with the school during the last few months.

The initial school district plans proposed a maximum 35-foot-high building, but the reality is more than two dozen feet higher. The school district, scheduled for a zoning board hearing, says it is surprised by the township's response.

The heart of the matter seems to be the interpretation of the municipal code. The district claims the code allows a construction height limit of 35 feet or a total of three stories. The auditorium, it contends, is a very tall structure of only one story.

The least the school district can do, as far as the township is concerned, is get a zoning variance so that the height of the auditorium, part of a $51 million school renovation, is no longer in code violation. The school district says it has already been granted a construction permit and that it is protected by state law from the township's argument.

Source: Philly.com, "Pennsylvania school project's height stirs dispute," Anthony Campisi, 27 May 2011

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