Business owners are constantly looking for ways to remain competitive and take advantage of trade opportunities. Often, this means businesses will incorporate new operations or undergo expansion to generate supplemental sources of income. Before renovating or adding onto facilities to accommodate expanded operations, however, business owners should confirm that such an expansion is permitted under local zoning regulations.
In Pennsylvania, almost every municipality maintains its own zoning ordinance that regulates how a property in a specific zone can be used. While a business may begin its operations when a use is expressly permitted, changes in zoning ordinances can render the use nonconforming. In that case, if a business was legally established at its present location, the use will be permitted to continue, despite now being prohibited, because it is a lawfully pre-existing nonconformity (“nonconforming use”).
Pennsylvania law provides certain protections to nonconforming uses. One such protection is the right to expand, in accordance with the court-created natural expansion doctrine. In sum, the doctrine permits a landowner to expand a nonconforming use despite its nonconforming status. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that this right is not unlimited, however, and municipalities may impose reasonable restrictions on the expansion of a nonconforming use.