In our last post, we discussed the nature of a variance, a type of permit that allows a land owner to deviate from the literal terms of a zoning ordinance if the land owner can prove undue hardship. A recent decision of the Pottstown Zoning Board to deny an application for several variances demonstrates how the an application for a variance can engender a bitter real estate dispute.
A non-denominational church applied to the Pottstown Zoning Board for several variances that it needed to convert a former Catholic church into a boarding house for veterans. The neighbors of the proposed boarding house rose up in opposition. The borough also decided to oppose the project and selected the borough attorney to appear on its behalf at the hearing on the variance application. The Church attempted to end the dispute by reducing the number of potential boarders from 13 to 8, but this change failed to placate either the neighbors or the borough council.
At the hearing before the zoning board, the borough’s attorney conducted a thorough examination of the church’s witnesses. The crucial testimony was an admission from the church’s pastor that the church had made no effort to sell the property before seeking the variance. This admission undercut the church’s argument that it was the victim of hardship. The zoning board voted unanimously to deny the permits requested by the church.
As this brief description shows, the hearing before the zoning board was much like a courtroom trial. Attorneys frequently represent the parties at these hearings. In a complex case, or where, as in this case, the matter stirs deep emotions, an experienced land use attorney with an extensive knowledge of state and local real estate laws can make a big difference in whether a variance application succeeds.
Source: Pottstown Mercury, “Pottstown zoning board rejects St. Peter’s Church boarding house plan,” Evan Brandt, Feb. 19, 2015