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Court denies residential rezoning

| Apr 3, 2012 | Land Use & Zoning |

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has upheld a lower court’s ruling, denying a property owner’s request for rezoning to add a fourth floor and a roof deck to his Philadelphia property.

The man owns a three-story building on South 18th Street in the city, built on a narrow parcel. The current zoning allows for buildings 35 feet high with no more than three stories. Most of the properties on the block have zoning that allows an additional story or a rooftop deck. Immediately next door, the buildings have three stories, though buildings of four and five stories nearby are not uncommon. A 12-story hospital sits across the street from the man’s parcel.

In July 2009, the man applied for a permit to build the fourth floor and the roof deck, but a city department denied it. On appeal to the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment, the man said his addition would make his property comparable to others in the area. Four neighbors spoke at a May 2010 hearing, contending the additional story and deck would keep sunlight from their properties.

A month later, the board granted the zoning variance, ruling the change in zoning would not harm the public interest. Additionally, the board found the man also suffered from a hardship because his property was narrow in width.

The Center City Residents’ Association and the four neighbors appealed that decision, however. A trial court said the zoning board’s decision was improper since the board heard no evidence to support the hardship ruling.

The property owner then took his appeal to the Commonwealth Court, which also ruled against him. He contended to the court that the zoning board had found hardship because the narrow width of his property limited his living space and that his property was one of only two in the immediate area subject to the three-story limit and was unfairly subjected to “spot zoning.” He also stated that his constitutional rights had been denied because a reasonable solution — a variance in this case — existed to modify his hardship.

Zoning rules can be intimidating for homeowners who only want to improve property that they own. It can be hard to understand why neighbors would want to interfere in a homeowner’s decisions, but this is why it’s important to have experienced help in real estate disputes.

Source: Leagle, “Center City Residents’ Association v. Zoning Board of Adjustment,” Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, March 21, 2012

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