General Zoning & Land Use News & Updates

 

In the case of Cardinal Crossing v. Marple Township, the PA Commonwealth Court was faced with the issue of whether a developer, who spends substantial funds on a development, in reliance on statements of support from a committee formed by the Township (which included Township officials), can recover damages from the Township when the Board of Commissioners did not adopt the requested zoning amendment for the proposed project to proceed forward. The Commonwealth Court, in finding that unofficial action by Township officials cannot bind a Township to take legislative action, upheld the decision of the Court of Common Pleas and found in favor of the Township and dismissed developer’s complaint.

In this case, a developer entered into an agreement of sale with the Archdiocese to purchase property subject to developer obtaining a rezoning to allow the development of 1,100,000 square feet of commercial/office space and 375 townhomes. However, this agreement of sale provided that the sum of $5,000,000 would become non-refundable at the end of the due diligence period. The developer started meeting with representatives of the Township in August of 2014, but did not file its formal application for zoning relief until May 21, 2015; less than 30 days prior to when its $5,000,000 deposit would become non-refundable. The Township’s Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of the requested zoning relief and the Board of Commissioners then voted to deny the application for rezoning in May of 2016 (well after the deposit went non-refundable) and less than 60 days before its agreement of sale with the Archdiocese was scheduled to expire.

In the complaint, developer claimed that the Township representatives, with whom it met, repeatedly represented that the Township wanted the property developed as proposed and that the Township knew or should have known that developer would rely upon these representations; and it relied upon these representations to execute the agreement of sale, pay the deposits and prepare the application for the requested zoning relief. Evidently, the developer spent more than $7,000,000 between its soft costs and the deposit.

The Court of Common Pleas held, in ruling in favor of the Township, that no statement of these representatives could rise to the level of an inducement or promise by the Township to grant the requested zoning relief and that developer knew or should have known that the enactment of a zoning amendment was a legislative act that would be binding only upon a vote of the Board of Commissioners. The Commonwealth Court held that there was no official action by the Township that the developer alleged in its complaint that caused it to act to its detriment.

The lesson here is that developers cannot rely upon statements of support by Township representatives (even members of the governing body) outside of a public hearing and should formally file its petition for zoning relief at the earliest possible date and push that application for a decision by the governing body prior to developer’s deposit “going hard” under its agreements of sale. Developers should also insure that they have sufficient time under their agreement of sale to work with all applicable parties and hold the required hearings. If not, developers should “walk away” before they get in too deep as the developer did in this case.

For more information on the subject, please feel free to contact Rob Gundlach at (215) 918-3636 or rgundlach@foxrothschild.com.

Governor Tom Wolf signed into law, on July 20, 2017, Act 26, which amended the Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act concerning the use of alternate sewage systems for purposes of obtaining planning module approval from DEP for a new project. Act 26 is scheduled to take effect on or about September 18, 2017.

Many developers ask the question as to their right to use A/B sewage systems and other alternate sewage systems for purposes of obtaining planning module approval for a new project. Up until recently, DEP has taken the position that they do not have the authority to approve a planning module that uses alternate or experimental sewage systems. This position was recently confirmed in a memo issued by DEP, dated March 23, 2017[1]. In other words, DEP would not allow A/B sewage systems, and other alternative systems, to be used for purposes of planning module approval for a new project. This routinely resulted in developers obtaining less density than they could otherwise obtain by having to use conventional sewage systems for planning module approval.

Act 22 now requires DEP to accept, for the purpose of satisfying general site suitability requirements, any conventional or alternate on-lot sewage systems permitted by a sewage enforcement officer. Therefore, A/B sewage systems, and other alternate systems, should now be allowed to be used for planning purposes. Act 22 goes on to require DEP, in consultation with the sewage advisory committee and within 180 days of the effective date of the Act, to develop scientific, technical and field testing standards upon which an evaluation of each on-lot sewage system that has been classified as an alternate system shall be based. The Act also requires DEP, in consultation with the sewage advisory committee, to review the scientific, technical and field testing data for each individual on-lot sewage system and each community on-lot sewage system that is classified as an alternate on-lot sewage system and, based on this information, either reclassify the alternate sewage systems as a conventional system or remove the system’s classification as an alternate system.

I suspect that there will be more to follow on this topic. Nevertheless, to the extent that a developer has a project that can yield greater density using one or more alternate systems, then the developer should consult with its legal counsel and sewer consultant as to its viability to do so based on Act 26.

For more information on the use of alternate systems, or the approval of planning modules in general, please feel free to contact Rob Gundlach at (215) 918-3636 or rgundlach@foxrothschild.com.

[1] See prior Blog on this subject from this author.

In a recent Commonwealth Court decision, Appeal of Chester County Outdoor, LLC, No. 1761 C.D. 2016, 2017 WL 3198266 (Pa. Comm. July 28, 2017), the Court held that, after a successful validity challenge to an ordinance, the challenger must file an application for site-specific relief with the municipality prior to filing an action with the court pursuant to Section 1006-A of the Municipalities Planning Code (MPC).

Chester County Outdoor, LLC (CCO), a billboard developer, filed a challenge to the substantive validity of the East Pikeland Township Zoning Ordinance (the “Ordinance”) with the Township Zoning Hearing Board (the “ZHB”), alleging that the Ordinance unlawfully excluded billboards. CCO did not request site-specific relief from the ZHB, or submit plans for a proposed billboard with the validity challenge.

Before the ZHB made a decision as to the validity challenge, the Township Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution which declared the challenged sections of the Ordinance to be invalid.  The ZHB then issued a decision sustaining the validity challenge, and the Township subsequently adopted a curative amendment to the Ordinance.

After adoption of the curative amendment, CCO filed a declaratory judgment action with the trial court, seeking a declaration that CCO is entitled to site-specific relief to permit a billboard on the subject property, and a hearing held pursuant to 1006-A(d) of the MPC.

Section 1006-A(d) provides, in part, that upon motion by any of the parties or upon motion by the court, the judge of the court may hold a hearing or hearings to receive additional evidence or employ experts to aid the court to frame an appropriate order.

After CCO petitioned for a hearing under 1006-A(d), the Township filed a motion for the ZHB to be appointed the special hearing master under 1006-A(c).  However, after granting the Township’s motion, and reviewing the ZHB’s special master report, the trial court ruled that CCO’s request for site-specific relief did not belong before the trial court because, after prevailing on its validity challenge, CCO should have submitted plans to the Township before filing an action with the trial court.  Because CCO never applied for and been denied site-specific relief form the Township, no relief was available under Section 1006-A of the MPC.  CCO appealed the trial court’s decision to the Commonwealth Court.

The Commonwealth Court ultimately remanded the case back to the trial court and ruled that, while CCO is required to first submit its request for site-specific relief to the ZHB for consideration and determination, the trial court is the ultimate decision maker. The trial court is required under Section 1006-A of the MPC to conduct a de novo review of the evidence, and need not give deference to the ZHB’s findings.  As part of its de novo review, however, the trial court, in its discretion, is permitted to accept the ZHB’s findings as its own.  The trial court is also permitted, but not required, to hold a hearing and take additional evidence.  After conducting its de novo review, the trial court is required to grant the request for site-specific relief, unless the Township meets its burden of proving the materiality of certain “unchallenged, pre-existing, and generally applicable” provisions of the Ordinance, and that the proposed billboard is incompatible with such provisions.  When applying these unchallenged, pre-existing and generally applicable provisions to the billboard proposal, however, the trial court must be mindful to not apply these provisions in a manner that would exclude all billboards, or limit the trial court’s discretion in fashioning site-specific relief to CCO.

In addition, the Court held that the trial court is not permitted to apply the curative amendment to CCO’s request for site-specific relief because it was adopted after CCO filed its validity challenge.  In the event that the trial court concludes that CCO’s proposed billboard (i) is incompatible with any of the Ordinance’s “unchallenged, pre-existing, and generally applicable provisions,” and/or (ii) that the proposed billboard is contrary to the public health, safety and welfare, the trial court must consider alternative sites and/or alternative configurations for the proposed billboard and fashion some form of site-specific relief to CCO.

In a case caption Smith v. Ivy Lee Real Estate, LLC, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania was faced with the question if Section 617 of the MPC permits a private cause of action to enforce a subdivision land development ordinance (SALDO). In the case, the Smith family alleged that Ivy Lee, who was their neighbor, engaged in construction activities that constituted land development under the township’s SALDO. The Smith family requested, among other things, a permanent injunction against Ivy Lee preventing construction activities unless and until Ivy Lee obtains the required SALDO approvals. The Smith family contended that, even though the township refused to enforce the SALDO, the Smith family had a right to bring a private enforcement action under Section 617 of the MPC.

The trial court determined that Section 617 creates a private cause of action solely for zoning violations, but ruled that the Smith family does not have standing to enforce the SALDO pursuant to Section 617 of the MPC. However, the Commonwealth Court found, in reviewing the language of Section 617 of the MPC and certain case law concerning it, that the plain language of Section 617 permits a private cause of action to enforce an alleged violation of any ordinance enacted under the MPC, including a SALDO.

The net of this case is that landowners can bring a private action against another landowner for their failure to comply with ordinances enacted under the MPC, including their failure to obtain land development approval. From a practical standpoint, given the broad definition of land development in the MPC and many municipal ordinances, there may be more instances where a municipality determines that land development approval is not required (such as for a change in use), but a private party might see otherwise and now, based on this case, has a right to bring their own private action against the violating landowner.

If you have any questions concerning the subject matter contained in this blog, on land use issues in general, please contact Rob Gundlach at 215-918-3636 or RGundlach@foxrothschild.com.

On October 14, 2014, the Pennsylvania General Assembly signed Act 142 creating the Pennsylvania State Construction Notices Directory, which became effective January 1, 2017 (the “Act”). The Act created an online directory whereby project owners or their agents (collectively, “Owner”) can register on an online, searchable state-wide database (the “Directory”) before beginning any construction project that costs over $1.5 million, by filing a Notice of Commencement in the Directory.

If the Owner files the Notice of Commencement in the Directory, a subcontractor or its agent (collectively, “Subcontractor”) must then file a Notice of Furnishing within 45 days of first performing work, services, or first providing materials to the job site. If the Subcontractor fails to properly follow the filing guidelines, it risks losing the right to file any lien claim in the future.

There are also additional filings and compliance requirements for both Owner and Subcontractor that are necessary to protect each party’s rights and interests.  Because of the required filings and additional compliance requirements, it is important for all parties involved to be aware of potential pitfalls and compliance issues that could cost money, time, and are a headache to deal with. For these reasons, it is important to seek professional guidance in these situations to protect your rights and interests and to help you smoothly navigate the process.

If you would like more information, please contact Tim D’Lauro at 215-918-3596 or tdlauro@foxrothschild.com.

A recent case decided by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania confirms how important it is to understand where zoning challenges should be filed and the deadline date by when to file them. In the case of Carr vs. Horsham Township, an objector filed challenges to a zoning ordinance, on both procedural and substantive grounds, to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas within 30 days after the publication of the second 108 notice describing the passage of the referenced zoning ordinance. Unfortunately, only the procedural challenge to the zoning ordinance should have been filed to the Horsham Township zoning hearing board. In addition, challenges based on a procedural defects in its enactment must be filed within 30 days of the Ordinance’s effective date. Most zoning ordinances are effective 5 days after its adoption; nevertheless, it is always a safer bet to file the procedural appeal within 30 days after the date when the Ordinance is adopted. In this case, the objectors filed their appeal within 30 days after the publication of the second 108 legal notice. Notwithstanding the late filing, the court did allow the appeal to proceed under a nunc pro tunc basis because the governmental agency publishing the section 108 notice referenced a different and later appeal deadline for the filing of the land use appeal. The Commonwealth Court went on to dismiss the portions of the land use appeal containing substantive challenges due to the failure to properly and timely file such claims with the zoning hearing board and remanded the procedural challenges back to the Court of Common Pleas.

There can be many “trap doors” when filing zoning and land use appeals. Please feel free to consult with us for assistant in this complicated area of law. Rob Gundlach.

Effective July 1, 2017, the City of Philadelphia established a single Department of Planning and Development.  The Department will have three divisions.  The Division of Planning and Zoning will include the Art Commission, the Historical Commission, the City Planning Commission, and the staff for the Zoning Board of Adjustment.  The Division of Development Services will include the development services group which had previously been a part of the Commerce Department.  Lastly, the City’s office of Housing and Community Development, the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation and the Philadelphia Land Bank will be organized within the Division of Housing and Community Development.

Philadelphia Skyline
Copyright: rudi1976 / 123RF Stock Photo

The idea for the reorganization has been promoted by City Council President Darrell Clarke since 2015 and was approved by the voters as a charter change in November of that year.  In connection with the establishment of the new Department, the Land Bank and the Historical Commission, along with the Development Services section will increase staff.  The remaining sub-groups will not enjoy staff increases.

Within the new Department, particular attention will be paid to the Land Bank which has enjoyed only limited success since its creation in 2013.  While the Land Bank faces challenges associated with assuming duties previously held by a range of departments and agencies, its most acute challenge is likely securing approval for transactions from City Council, particularly in light of the Council’s historic informal policy (known as councilmanic prerogative) of requiring approval from the District City Councilperson in connection with the sale of city property.

The different city offices and agencies which are being coordinated within this single Department will not immediately relocate, so the Department’s offices will continue to be spread among different floors of 1515 Arch Street and 1234 Market Street.  This unorthodox approach will present management challenges to the Director of the Department, Anne Fadullon.

Rob Gundlach represented a shopping center owner to obtain site plan approval, variances, and waivers/exceptions for the conversion and redevelopment of an existing office building in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, for reuse as new car automobile dealership. Rob has represented other owners over the years to obtain zoning and land use approvals in Lawrence Township.  Please consider using Rob for your next project requiring zoning and land use approvals in Lawrence Township.

If you are planning a new development project in Pennsylvania and cannot connect it to public sewer, navigating the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (the “Department”) requirements for the use of an onlot sewage system is key. The Pennsylvania Code (the “Code”) divides onlot sewage systems into three categories: (1) conventional, (2) alternate, and (3) experimental. While the Code defines each category of onlot sewage system, it is not clear about which system may be used for planning a new development. Section 71.62(a) of the Pennsylvania Code states: “[o]fficial plans and official plan revisions proposing individual and community onlot sewage systems shall evaluate general site suitability to establish their use as a feasible alternative.” Notably, this Section does not provide any guidance as to what system may be used to satisfy the “general site suitability requirements” for new development planning.

On March 23, 2017, the Department clarified what system needs to be used in new development planning. This clarification came at the request of Duane Mowery, the Chairman of the Pennsylvania Sewage Advisory Committee. The Department determined that Section 71.62(a) requires all new development plans to use conventional onlot systems to satisfy the general site suitability requirements. Therefore, alternative and experimental onlot systems cannot be used for new development planning. Although the Department requires the use of conventional onlot sewage systems for new development planning generally, there remain certain exceptions to the Department’s broad rule. Because every parcel of land and situation is unique, we can help you ensure that you are using the correct onlot system when planning your new development project.

If you would like more information, please contact Rob Gundlach at 215-918-3636 or rgundlach@foxrothschild.com.

Nothing can stop a development project faster than a Pennsylvania municipality denying a developer’s Act 537 planning module for wastewater management. If the municipality refuses a developer’s plan to connect to public sewer or to install some alternate or experimental onlot sewage system, the entire development project is at risk. However, a municipality’s denial of an Act 537 planning module update is not the end of the line.

Under Section 750.5(b) of the Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act, any resident or equitable property owner (the “applicant”) located in the denying municipality may file a “private request” with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (the “Department”). A private request asks the Department to compel the municipality to revise its Act 537 Plan in accordance with the applicant’s plan. To be successful, the applicant must show that the municipality’s Act 537 Plan is either (1) not being implemented, or (2) is inadequate to meet the applicant’s sewage disposal needs. If the Department approves the private request, the municipality is required to revise its Act 537 Plan in accordance with the applicant’s plan.

While submitting a private request to the Department may appear simple, the process requires strict adherence to certain procedural requirements. In addition to substantive proof that a municipality’s Act 537 Plan is inadequate, the applicant must comply with specific notice, filing, and public comment requirements. If the applicant does not meet these procedural requirements, the Department may deny a private request without addressing the merits of the applicant’s request. Therefore, leaving the development project in no better shape than it was before. We can help you navigate the private request process to ensure that your request receives the Department’s full attention and review.

If you would like more information, please contact Rob Gundlach at 215-918-3636 or rgundlach@foxrothschild.com.