Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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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

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Appellees owned a 166-acre farm in Lower Makefield Township. On December 6, 1996, Lower Maker Township condemned the property in order to build a public golf course. Appellees filed preliminary objections challenging the validity of using eminent domain for such a purpose. That issue was eventually appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which found the taking was for a legitimate public use. As the parties were unable to agree on damages, the matter proceeded to a jury trial for a calculation of the property's value. The trial lasted six days, and a total of 11 witnesses were called, one of whom was appellee Chester Dalgewicz. Mr. Dalgewicz testified regarding the farm's history and the interest shown by several developers in purchasing the property, and described some of the offers received both before and after the property was condemned, including a 1995 agreement of sale with Ryland Homes for $5.1 million, and a 1998 sales agreement with Toll Brothers for $7 million, contingent upon the condemnation being overturned. During Mr. Dalgewicz's testimony, he described a December, 1998 written offer from Pulte Homes, Inc., including a $8 million offer price; the offer letter was also introduced into evidence. The Township objected arguing the offer was inadmissible as it did not result in a sales agreement and any testimony concerning the offer price would be irrelevant and prejudicial. The Township appealed the Commonwealth Court's order affirming the trial court's ruling that testimony regarding a bona fide offer and the underlying offer letter itself could be introduced into evidence in a condemnation valuation trial. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts' decisions. View "Lower Maker Township v. Lands of Chester Dalgewicz" on Justia Law

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Appellants Charles and Agnes Messina, and Lehigh Asphalt Paving and Construction Company appealed the Commonwealth Court's affirmation of the order of the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas, which held appellants' challenge to East Penn Township Zoning Ordinance No. 1996-94 was time-barred. Charles and Agnes Messina own 114.4 acres in East Penn Township where they reside in a single-family residence. Lehigh Asphalt Paving and Construction Company is the equitable owner of the property pursuant to an option contract, and it uses a portion of the property as a quarry. In 2008, appellants filed a lawsuit in the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas asserting the Ordinance was void ab initio because East Penn Township failed to strictly adhere to procedural requirements for adopting a zoning ordinance as required by section10610(b) of the Municipalities Planning Code (MPC). Appellants specifically argued East Penn Township made changes to the zoning map on the night of the Ordinance's adoption and failed to provide notice to the public of these changes before enacting them. The trial court was unable to determine what changes had been made to the Ordinance on the night of its adoption, due to the record's vagueness, and offered to hold an evidentiary hearing on what changes had been made, but the parties declined. Consequently, the trial court held appellants failed to show a substantial change made and found the claim was statutorily time-barred. Upon review of the lower courts' records, the Supreme Court affirmed the holdings that appellants' claim was time-barred because they failed to meet their burden of proof that the township did not substantially comply with statutory procedure as required by the applicable statute. View "Messina v. East Penn Twp." on Justia Law

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In 2006, Developer-Appellee 500 James Hance Court, LP entered into a construction management agreement with Contractor Gorman Construction Company, Inc., pertaining to the erection of a building at 500 James Hance Court, situated within the Oaklands Corporate Center in Exton, Chester County. According to the agreement, the contemplated, 68,000-square-foot structure was to be used as an elementary charter school, and the project was denominated "Collegium Charter School." Soon after the lease and related contracts were executed, the Bureau of Labor Law Compliance notified the School that it was investigating the project to determine whether prevailing wages were required. In this regard, the Bureau explained that charter school construction was treated the same as a traditional school project (re: public works project) for prevailing wage purposes. If the project's phases could be bifurcated, both the school and Appellee would be responsible. The issue between the parties centered on who was ultimately responsible for compliance with the prevailing wage law: the contractor or the school. The Commonwealth Court had found no evidence that the charter school had any role in determining space and performance goals for the project, and therefore the school was responsible for compliance. But upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Board’s determination that the lease was a disguised construction contract for the building as a whole, was based on legal error and essential findings which lacked substantial evidentiary support. Facially, the project was rationally divisible according to major phases of shell and fit-out construction. As to the shell, Appellees established the private character of the funding. Furthermore, in terms of economic reality, Appellees presented a prima facie case that Developer's only relationship with the School was per a bona fide pre-development lease. The Bureau failed to go forward with sufficient evidence to the contrary to overcome this prima facie case, and as such, affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "500 James Hance Ct. v. Pa. Prevailing Wage Appeals Bd." on Justia Law