In a world where technology and community needs frequently out-pace zoning updates, permitting zoning modifications by conditional use is an opportunity for municipalities and developers to collaborate to help ensure development projects are well designed, innovative, publicly supported and, therefore, approved. Most people involved in zoning and development know that denied variances – (i.e., modifications of the strict application of zoning ordinance provisions) can sink otherwise well designed, innovative and publicly supported projects. Regardless of the use, district or community, the rigid “hardship” criteria for variances, set forth in Section 910.2(a) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”), are extremely inflexible. That inflexibility often stymies creativity and constrains innovation. Indeed, the antiquated criteria is inconsistent with and contrary to other provisions of the MPC and, at times, the desires of many municipalities that wish to accommodate newer development innovations and trends.
Occurring more often are scenarios where variances are necessary to accommodate the preferences of the municipality and to permit innovative and sustainable mixed-use developments with design enhancements. In such instances, zoning hearing boards, municipal elected and appointed officials, and the public all may agree