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Township threatens to shut down charitable activity unless variance is sought

8/14/2012 | Real Estate Blog

Our regular readers know that zoning barriers can get in the way of businesses owners and entrepreneurs, preventing them from moving forward with plans to establish or expand their business or develop real estate. Zoning difficulties can get in the ways of philanthropists, too.

A Pennsylvania woman who distributes free meals to needy children in her neighborhood through the generosity of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was recently targeted by Chester Township for what they say is a zoning violation. After another resident alerted the council about the distribution, an investigation was launched and it was determined that the charitable activity was not permitted.

The neighborhood in which the activity is being carried on is marked by a per capita income of $19,000 per year. The neighborhood, a residential zone, doesn’t permit people to hand out food to children. According to the township, the woman would need to go before the zoning board to request a variance. The problem is that would cost her up to $1,000 in administrative fees, a bit of a burden for a woman who makes nothing by her charitable activity.

The response of the township to the situation is basically that it isn’t their responsibility to ensure that the activity can continue. If she fails to request the variance, she will be forced to shut the operation down. At this point the woman doesn’t have plans to discontinue her practice.

The process of requesting a zoning variance, challenging zoning ordinances, and appealing rulings can be a daunting one, particularly for those who are unsophisticated in local laws and legal processes. Working with an experienced real estate attorney in these types of matters can increase one’s chances of achieving a favorable outcome.

Source: Fox News, “Philadelphia woman faces $600-a-day fine for feeding needy neighborhood kids,” August 14, 2012