Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred in reversing the decision of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas, which, in turn, had reversed the decision of the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) to allow for the drilling, construction, development and operation of unconventional natural gas wells as a conditional use in a district zoned Residential-Agricultural (“R-A”). The Supreme Court determined after review of the evidentiary record, the Board's decision was not supported by the evidence, and because the proposed use was not similar to any permitted use in the R-A district as required under the Fairfield Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Gorsline v Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp." on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred in reversing the decision of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas, which, in turn, had reversed the decision of the Fairfield Township Board of Supervisors (the “Board”) to allow for the drilling, construction, development and operation of unconventional natural gas wells as a conditional use in a district zoned Residential-Agricultural (“R-A”). The Supreme Court determined after review of the evidentiary record, the Board's decision was not supported by the evidence, and because the proposed use was not similar to any permitted use in the R-A district as required under the Fairfield Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Gorsline v Bd. of Sup. of Fairfield Twp." on Justia Law

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This discretionary appeal addressed the role of a court following a school district’s decision to conduct a private sale of an unused or unnecessary school building pursuant to section 7-707(3) of the Pennsylvania Public School Code of 1949. Ridgefield Elementary School (“Ridgefield”) sat on 7.9 acres of land (the “Property”), which contained the school, a playground, a parking lot and open greenspace. Ridgefield was located in Millcreek Township (the “Township”) and was in an R-1 single- family residential zoning district. In 2013, the Millcreek Township School District (the “School District”) closed Ridgefield, partitioned the Property into three lots, and tried to sell the Property through a sealed bid process, but it received no bids. In July 2014, the School District listed the Property for sale. Two offers were made on the property; in 2015, the School District petitioned the trial court for approval of the private sale of Lot 1 of the Property. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded a trial court’s involvement in such cases is limited to either approving or disapproving the sale. The statute required a determination of whether the petition for private sale contains the requisite information and was adequately supported by the opinions of two disinterested individuals who are familiar with the real estate in the geographic area, have viewed the property for sale, and concluded that the proposed sale price “is a fair and reasonable one and in their opinion a better price than could be obtained at public sale.” The statute does not require, and thus courts may not consider, whether the sale serves the public interest. Here, the Commonwealth Court based its decision on an erroneous interpretation of section 7-707(3) and the prior decisions of the Supreme Court. Therefore, the Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In Re: Private Sale of Prop. by Millcreek Twp. SD" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cross-appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted review to consider whether three statutory provisions, the “Donated or Dedicated Property Act” (“DDPA”), the “Project 70 Land Acquisition and Borrowing Act” (“Project 70 Act”), and the Eminent Domain Code, allow Appellant Downingtown Borough (“Borough”) to sell four parcels of land to private housing developers , Appellants Progressive Housing Ventures, LLC and J. Loew and Associates, Inc. (“Developers”). The four parcels comprised a public community park owned and maintained by the Borough, and were held by the Borough as trustee. After review, the Court vacated the order of the Commonwealth Court with respect to the Borough’s proposed sale to Developers of two southern parcels, reversed the order regarding the proposed sale by the Borough to Developers of two northern parcels, and reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court involving the Borough’s grant of easements to Developers over all parcels. The Borough was required to obtain court approval before selling the parcels, and easements over the land would have subordinated public rights to the parcels to private rights. View "Downingtown Borough (Friends of Kardon Park, Aplts)" on Justia Law

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In this case, two townships disputed the location of their common boundary. Pursuant to the Second Class Township Code, the trial court appointed three commissioners to ascertain that boundary. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to consider whether such commissioners, when tasked with determining the location of a municipal boundary but concluding that they could not do so with certainty, could consider the townships’ acquiescence to a line used as the boundary and relied upon by residents, and accordingly recommend the adoption of that alternative line as the municipal boundary. The Supreme Court concluded that, in such a narrow circumstance, the commissioners could rely upon the equitable doctrine of acquiescence in making their determination, and need not search indefinitely for evidence of the original boundary. Accordingly, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court and remanded for reinstatement of the trial court’s order. View "Adams Twp. v. Richland" on Justia Law

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In 2003, appellant Fred Moran was an elected member of the Board of Commissioners of Haverford Township, Delaware County. The board decided to sell a 209-acre parcel of land on which the former Haverford State Mental Hospital was located. On December 19, 2005, the board held a special public meeting to address a looming revenue shortfall for the upcoming year. During the meeting, as Commissioner Andrew Lewis recalled in his trial testimony, appellant proposed accelerating the collection of real estate taxes as a way to raise revenue; particularly, he suggested having a consultant purchasing the a portion of the parcel, Goldenberg-Pohlig (GP) pre-pay $500,000 of the 2006 realty taxes on the parcel. The next day, Lewis and appellant had a phone conversation with Michael Lawry, a principal with GP. Lewis informed Lawry the board was addressing a budgetary shortfall and told him appellant had a proposal. Appellant then said to Lawry, “[C]all it extortion, call it what you will. We need $500,000, and we’ll accelerate the zoning. We’ll get you the zoning approvals you need and accelerate the process.” Lewis recalled Lawry asked whether the $500,000 was included in the $17.5 million, and appellant indicated it would be added to the purchase price. Lawry responded he was not in a position to answer but would discuss the matter with others at GP and get back in touch with appellant and Lewis. A few minutes later, Lewis called Lawry back and told him, “I want no part of that conversation. Haverford Township is not in the business of selling zoning.” Lewis testified he called appellant the next day and essentially told him the same thing. Appellant was charged with and later convicted for bribery in official and political matters. On appeal of that conviction, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against him, and also raised the question of whether bribery (as charged) was a strict liability crime. The Supreme Court concluded after review that bribery in official and political matters was not a strict liability crime, and that there was sufficient evidence to support appellant's conviction. View "Pennsylvania v. Moran" on Justia Law

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In 2009, the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors enacted a Planned Residential Development Ordinance. This appeal centered on challenges to the validity of that ordinance and to the approval of a Tentative PRD Plan pursuant to it. Intervenors BPG Real Estate Investors (BPG) submitted an application under the anticipated PRD Ordinance for approval of a Tentative PRD Plan, proposing multi-use development of an approximately 218-acre tract of land that it owned. The Township Board orally approved BPG's Tentative PRD Plan, and later issued a written decision granting approval. Newtown Square East, L.P. (NSE), which owned a two-acre tract of land adjacent to BPG's tract, filed a challenge to the validity of the PRD Ordinance with the Newtown Township Zoning Hearing Board, and filed an appeal of the Township Board's approval of BPG's Tentative PRD Plan with the court of common pleas. With regard to its validity challenge before the Zoning Board, NSE argued, inter alia, that the PRD Ordinance violated Article VII of the MPC by, allegedly, failing to require that a tentative plan identify the uses of buildings and other structures, and permitting the location of buildings to be subject to free modification between the time of tentative plan approval and final plan approval. Following several hearings, the Zoning Board upheld the validity of the PRD Ordinance, finding that its minor textual variations from the relevant provisions of the MPC, Article VII, did not create an inconsistency or conflict with the enabling legislation. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the validity of the ordinance. View "Newtown Square East v. Twp. of Newtown" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia filed an Application for Zoning/Use Registration Permit with the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections ("L&I") for conversion of the Nativity B.V.M. Elementary School into a 63-unit, one-bedroom apartment complex for low income senior citizens. The school was built in 1912 and operated by the Archdiocese in legal non-conformance with subsequently enacted zoning codes until 2008, when it had been closed due to declining enrollment and insufficient revenue. In 2009, the Archdiocese received funding under the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") to convert the school to senior housing. L&I denied the Archdiocese's Application for Zoning/Use Registration Permit as not in compliance with several provisions of the Philadelphia Zoning Code. The Archdiocese appealed to the City of Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment ("ZBA") for use and dimensional variances. The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court was whether the Commonwealth Court applied an improper standard in reversing the ZBA's grant of a variance. After careful review of the Commonwealth Court's opinion the Court concluded that the court erred by relying on an improper standard for unnecessary hardship and by substituting its judgment for that of the ZBA, thereby applying an incorrect standard of review. View "Marshall v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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PPM Atlantic Renewable (“PPM”) unsuccessfully requested that the Fayette County Zoning Board grant it numerous special exceptions and variances for it to build 24 windmill turbines on leased land. This matter involved whether an objector must comply with a county court order to post bond as a condition of appealing to the Commonwealth Court, where the developer was the appellant in the county court. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court should not have quashed the objector's merits appeal based on the the objector's failure to post bond. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "PPM Atlantic Renewable v. Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether: (1) the repeal of an ordinance mooted any challenges to that ordinance; (2) whether the Commonwealth Court may issue an opinion on the merits of certain issues where it subsequently remands the case for a determination of mootness on another issue; and (3) whether parties to a hearing can continue a challenge to a zoning ordinance once the original challenger has withdrawn. Because “parties to a hearing” are distinct from “party appellants,” unless the former have taken steps to become party appellants, the Supreme Court found they cannot continue the challenge. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court’s decision permitting parties to the hearing to continue the challenge brought by the original party appellant was reversed, and the attempted challenge was dismissed. View "Stuckley v. ZHB of Newtown Twp." on Justia Law