13 property owners appeal zoning ruling
October 23, 2012
CRANBERRY TWP — A group of 13 Freedom Road property owners has appealed the township zoning hearing board’s decision to dismiss a challenge its members filed. The residents claim the restrictions in the overlay zoning treat them differently and include unreasonable requirements not included in other Traditional Neighborhood Development zoning districts. Their appeal was filed Oct. 4 in Butler County Court. A hearing date has yet to be set. Attorney David Nichols, who represents the property owners, has requested the court reverse the zoning board decision and rule that the TND Corridor Zoning on Freedom Road is invalid or send the issue back to the zoning board for additional evidence and testimony. The original hearing on the case before the zoning board was April 23, with its dismissal ruling issued Sept. 5. P. Andrew Diamond, chairman of the zoning board, wrote in the board’s decision that the applicants haven’t offered any testimony or evidence to support their claim that nonresidential development is impossible or that similar parties are treated differently. “It is the conclusion of the board that no testimony or evidence of the impossibility of nonresidential development in the TND district was presented by the applicants nor have the applicants carried their heavy burden of establishing similarly situated properties are treated disparately without rational basis,” wrote Diamond. “The board finds that the TND ordinance was the result of well-considered plan of the township developed over a number of years to allow property owners along Freedom Road, including the applicants, to maximize the use of their property.” “Applicants may not agree with the analysis and recommendations ultimately adopted by the Freedom Road corridor,” added Diamond, “but the record is devoid of any evidence that the ordinance includes arbitrary and unreasonable requirements and restrictions.” The TND zoning overlay came after almost two years of planning. The aim of that planning was to find some relief to property owners along Freedom Road who have been unable to sell their residentially-zoned properties and have had their property values diminish because of the increasing traffic along the state highway while protecting neighboring property owners interests. From those sessions, the TND overlay district was established, but it seemingly has not had the affect the township had hoped for nor the relief the Freedom Road property owners have sought. This is the second zoning board decision related to disputes along Freedom Road this year that has landed in Butler County civil court. Freedom Road resident Jim Wood had appealed the denial by the zoning board of his application challenging the residential zoning of his Freedom Road property. That appeal was filed on Jan. 17 by attorney Ernest Simon of Pittsburgh. Wood’s attorney had requested the court amend the zoning to allow for commercial use similar to the properties across Freedom Road. Those properties include a gas station, dry cleaners and the Freedom Square Plaza at the intersection of Haine School and Freedom roads. Butler County Judge Michael Yeager found that the board had denied Wood the right to enter certain evidence and erred in not allowing the evidence to be heard. He ordered that additional evidence be heard before the board. That court-ordered testimony is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday. Jerry Andree, Cranberry’s manager, said the judge sent the case back for the applicant to present a small area of testimony on the potential costs of the streetscape enhancement ordinance. Once the testimony is presented to the zoning board, the testimony will be sent back to Yeager as the case is expected to continue in civil court.