Conditional Use Application • Farm-to-Table Business • Nighttime Activities

Marshall v. Charlestown Twp. Bd. of Supervisors, PICS Case No. 17-1404 (Pa. Commw. Aug. 29, 2017) Hearthway, J. (16 pages).

Trial court erred in approving conditional use application for farm-to-table workshop program as an educational use, where the record supported the township’s finding that education was an accessory use and the primary use was like that of a restaurant. Order of the trial court reversed.

The Charlestown Township Board of Supervisors appealed from the trial court’s order, which reversed the board’s decision denying Paul and Julie Marshall’s conditional use application proposing to use their property for farm-to-table activities and imposing conditions on nighttime use. The Marshalls’ property was in the farm residential zoning district, and had a historic farmhouse and bank barn. The property shared a private residential driveway with two adjacent properties pursuant to a subdivision easement. The Marshalls filed a conditional use application seeking approval for a farm-to-table educational culinary workshop, with workshops to be conducted both day and night, pursuant to the township’s zoning ordinance for “cultural, educational, religious, charitable, or philanthropic use” and for the adaptive reuse of historic resources for educational and cultural facilities.

The board denied the application as to the Marshalls’ proposed nighttime workshops, finding the proposed use more like a restaurant than a true educational use, but approved daytime use with conditions. The Marshalls appealed, and the trial court reversed, allowing the Marshalls’ proposed nighttime use subject to eight conditions.

On the board’s appeal, the Marshalls objected to the board’s standing because it was the adjudicative body below. Although the Marshalls could not cite any case law on point, they analogized the situation to a special exception decided by a zoning hearing board, as well-settled case law held that zoning hearing boards had no standing to appeal from a final order of the trial court; instead, the Marshalls asserted that the township itself had to be the appellant or appear as an intervenor to avoid conflict of interest. The court rejected the Marshalls’ argument, declining to extend the lack of standing applicable to zoning hearing boards to governing bodies such as the board, since the interests of the board and the township were the same. The court held that it was not necessary to maintain the distinction of the board’s adjudicatory and governing roles on appeal.

In its appeal, the board argued that the trial court erred in concluding that the board improperly denied nighttime use, and abused its discretion in holding that the township zoning ordinance governing adaptive reuses for educational facilities was an alternative basis for relief for the Marshalls and in imposing conditions on the nighttime use. The court agreed with the board’s first argument, and declined to reach its other arguments as moot. The court first noted that a commercial use did not preclude an educational use, and conversely, that educational experiences did not automatically require finding an educational use. The court found that the record evidence supported the board’s initial conclusion that the educational aspects of the Marshalls’ workshops were accessory to the main use, which it found was like a restaurant. The court noted testimony that stated that consumption of alcohol or a full sit-down meal was not necessary to the purpose of the educational program. The court further rejected the Marshalls’ assertion that the board’s approval of the daytime program was inconsistent, noting their testimony that the daytime and nighttime workshops would be completely different experiences. Accordingly, the court reversed the order of the trial court.