Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

by
In this appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked to determine whether Subsection 508(4)(i) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), which protected pending land development applications filed with a municipality’s governing body, extended to zoning applications submitted to its zoning hearing board that were: (1) related to the land development application; and (2) filed with the zoning hearing board during the pendency of the land development application and after an adverse zoning change. The Court concluded that Subsection 508(4)(i)’s protection did indeed extend to zoning applications under these circumstances. View "In Re: ZHB of Cheltenham Twp 12-16-15 Decision" on Justia Law

by
In 2010, Appellee City of Lebanon (the “City”) was considering creation of a business improvement district (a “BID”), a type of Neighborhood Improvement District (“NID”) to revitalize its downtown area. After a hearing, at which citizens voiced their comments, the City accepted a plan devised by City officials and hired consultants as final and sent another letter to property owners and lessees within the proposed BID, advising how to file an objection, or to vote against the establishment of the Lebanon BID. Appellant Edward Schock, the owner of a non-exempt property in the Lebanon BID, filed suit at the county court under the caption: “Complaint for Declaratory Judgment to Declare Bid Dead.” In the complaint, Appellant advanced the position that, under NIDA, “the objection threshold is 40% of the assessed parcels,” as opposed to forty percent of all parcels within the geographic boundaries of a BID. Given that, by his calculus, only the owners of 280 properties within the geographic boundaries of the BID were eligible to vote, Appellant concluded that the final plan had been vetoed by the 132 negative votes. The City filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer, contending that the term “affected property owners,” in Section 5(f)(2), unambiguously encompasses all of the owners of properties within the geographic boundaries of a BID, regardless of whether they will be subject to or exempt from monetary assessments. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found, as did the court of common pleas, there were substantial, competing policy considerations in the design of the voting scheme pertaining to the establishment of NIDs. “Ultimately, although we find the shifting terminology within the Act to be awkward and ambiguous, we conclude that the statute’s veto provisions pertaining to final NID plans concern only assessed property owners.” The order of the Commonwealth Court was reversed and the matter remanded for entry of declaratory judgment reflecting the Supreme Court’s opinion. View "Schock. v. City of Lebanon" on Justia Law

by
The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on the question of whether a municipality, in addressing a natural gas extraction company’s conditional use application for the construction and operation of a well site, could consider as evidence the testimony of residents of another municipality regarding the impacts to their health, quality of life, and property which they attribute to a similar facility constructed and operated by the same company in their municipality. After careful review, the Supreme Court held such evidence could be received and considered by a municipality in deciding whether to approve a conditional use application, and, thus, vacated the Commonwealth Court’s order, and remanded this matter to that court, with instructions to remand this matter to the trial court for further consideration. View "EQT Production v. Boro of Jefferson Hills" on Justia Law

by
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether a zoning ordinance that defined “family” as requiring “a single housekeeping unit” permitted the purely transient use of a property located in a residential zoning district. This question arose based on the increasingly popular concept of web-based rentals of single-family homes to vacationers and other short-term users (usually for a few days at a time). The Supreme Court concluded that pursuant to its prior decisions in Albert v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of N. Abington Twp., 854 A.2d 401 (Pa. 2004), and In re Appeal of Miller, 515 A.2d 904 (Pa. 1986), the purely transient use of a house is not a permitted use in a residential zoning district limiting use to single-family homes by a "single housekeeping unit." View "Slice of Life, et al v. Hamilton Twp ZHB" on Justia Law

by
Appellees Steven and Mary Szabo, owned real property where they operate a hair salon and skin care business. The property abutted Route 19 and Old Washington Road, was improved with a parking lot and commercial structure. Appellant, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT or Department) developed a road expansion plan to connect Route 19 with Old Washington Road by means of an exit ramp that would run across a section of the Szabos land, identified in the declaration of taking as Parcel 5. The Department attempted to purchase the property from the Szabos; however, the parties could not come to an agreement. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether a failure to file preliminary objections to a declaration of taking resulted in waiver under Section 306 of the Eminent Domain Code, 26 Pa.C.S. sections 101-1106 (Code). After careful review, the Court held that the declaration did not establish the extent or effect of the taking. Accordingly, the failure to file preliminary objections within thirty days of service did not result in waiver of the right to assert ownership and seek just compensation, and therefore the Court affirmed the decision of the Commonwealth Court to remand the matter for an evidentiary hearing. View "Szabo v. PennDOT" on Justia Law

by
This appeal involved a constitutional challenge to a provision of the City of Philadelphia's Property Maintenance Code that required owners of vacant buildings that were a “blighting influence” to secure all spaces designed as windows with working glazed windows and all entryways with working doors. Appellees, owners of a vacant property that was cited for violating this ordinance challenged the provision, largely contending that it was an unconstitutional exercise of the City’s police power. The City’s Board of License and Inspection Review (“Board”) rejected Owners’ arguments; however, the trial court agreed with Owners and deemed the ordinance unconstitutional. The Commonwealth Court affirmed, concluding that the ordinance was an unconstitutional exercise of the City’s police power because it was concerned with the aesthetic appearance of vacant buildings, not the safety risks posed by blight. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth Court and trial court erred in this regard, and vacated their orders and remanded the matter to the trial court for consideration of Owners’ remaining issues. View "Rufo v. City of Phila." on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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