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Pennsylvania court upholds zoning board denial

A Pennsylvania appellate court has upheld a lower court's ruling that agreed with a zoning board's decision, blocking a developer from building a residential unit for parolees and pre-release inmates. Zoning regulations can be restrictive, and some people can use them to stop a development that they don't want to happen.

In their decision, the three judges on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania panel found that the zoning board in a city north of Philadelphia ruled correctly when it decided the city zoning ordinance did not permit such a structure. The development company had hoped to transform part of an office building it owns into housing.

The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole has office space on the first floor of that building. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections had sought to move its community corrections center in the city to a larger space in the building in question. Inmates on work release and parolees would have lived there while beginning their transition out of detention. The developer had proposed to lease the basement to the state for the office and repurpose the second floor into the community corrections center.

The town's zoning ordinance permits using the basement as an office, and the developer argued that the second floor could become the corrections center because it served as a supplement to the offices.

Scranton's zoning enforcement officer approved the request for the office shift, but in an August 2010 letter, the officer said the community corrections center did not meet the zoning requirements. The developer asked for a zoning variance.

The developer told the zoning board that those who stayed in the 36-bed residential portion would be under constant supervision and undergo counseling. Still, owners of area businesses opposed the variance, stating the building never had a residential use. The zoning board agreed with local business owners, ruling the developer had not shown required evidence of a hardship and siding with community members who had said such a use would change the neighborhood character.

The developer appealed the ruling in a Lackawanna County court, where the judge upheld the board's ruling. The most recent order confirms that court decision.

Source: Leagle, "Philadelphia Suburban Development Corp. v. Scranton Zoning Hearing Board," April 5, 2012.

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