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.

Obtaining financing for your development project is one of the most important aspects of moving your development plans from paper to reality. Recently, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (the “Authority”) created a Real Estate Impact Fund (the “REIF”). The REIF supports private and public redevelopment projects on underutilized property in New Jersey by facilitating the procurement of financing for small and mid-size development projects.

Through the REIF’s private component, for-profit and non-profit developers and businesses may obtain up to $3 million in financing from the Authority. REIF funding may be used for a variety of purposes, including property acquisition and assembly; demolition and site clearance; environmental investigation and remediation; pre-development costs; on-site infrastructure; general construction and/or rehabilitation; and associated soft development expenses.

To be eligible for REIF financing, the development project must be located in a “targeted area.” Targeted areas include: Urban Aid Municipalities; projects in Fort Monmouth; and New Jersey university/college sponsored projects that promote emerging technologies or industries. The total cost of the planned development project should not exceed $15 million. In addition, the project must create or maintain one full-time job for every $65,000 in REIF financing procured.

REIF-financed projects can be either new construction or substantial rehabilitation. Potential REIF-eligible projects include: mixed-use (residential and minimum 20% commercial); retail; office; industrial; entertainment venues; associated parking garage structures; and/or land acquisition/assemblages. Residential only projects are not eligible to receive REIF financing.

Obtaining REIF financing requires the completion of an online application and compliance with other certain requirements, such as consulting with a New Jersey Business Development Officer. We can assist you in preparing your application and complying with the application process requirements.

Please contact Rob Gundlach for more information at 215-918-3636 or

When the Philadelphia Zoning Code was amended in August, 2012, a Transit–Oriented Development (“TOD”) Overlay District was included.  Such districts have become increasingly favored by urban planners as a way to encourage development adjacent to transit hubs, with associated increase in the use of public transit and a decrease in reliance upon private transportation.  However, the provision included in the 2012 Zoning Code proved cumbersome, and during the intervening 4+ years, no parcel in Philadelphia has been so designated.  In response, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Councilman Bill Greenlee jointly introduced on February 23, 2017, a new ordinance amending the TOD overlay (ordinance # 170162).

Public transit
Copyright: 06photo / 123RF Stock Photo

The main objective of the proposed new Overlay District is to both simplify the application of the TOD and increase bonuses, which would be available to landowners and developers who utilize it. To achieve the simplification, the Overlay District would apply to any parcel located within 500 feet of a designated transit station.  It is anticipated that stations will be so designated only by action of City Council, and presumably only after approval of the District City Council person in whose district the TOD will be designated.

There will be a development bonus of 30% of the otherwise permitted FAR for parcels located in the TOD.  Furthermore, bonus FAR is available for green buildings, next income housing, provision of public space, provision of underground parking, and certain transit connections.  Where bonuses of 150% are available, generally, in the Philadelphia Zoning Code for provision of such items, in the TOD, bonuses can be accumulated allowing for an increase of FAR of 200%.

One interesting provision of the proposed new ordinance is that for the first time, Philadelphia would impose a maximum amount of parking which can be made available in connection with a project.  This change will be welcome by planning professionals, who hope similar provisions will be applied in Center City.

It is certainly unclear whether or not City Council will pass the ordinance in the form introduced, but if passed, the City’s planning professionals will seek to convince members of City Council to designate a small number of pilot TOD districts, which will be tested to see whether increased development can be triggered by this approach.

As of this blog post, City Council’s Rules Committee has not scheduled the ordinance for a public hearing.  It appears that usual, short-term concern about parking availability may delay the implementation of this forward-looking approach.

Copyright: ymgerman / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: ymgerman / 123RF Stock Photo

Before you rush to file a land development application with a municipality, make sure that the proposed work actually constitutes land development requiring municipal approval. In certain circumstances, municipal land development approval is not required.

For example, Pennsylvania courts have held that the construction of a roof over a previously-approved structure, such as a patio, does not constitute land development under the Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”).  Per the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, land development typically involves a large tract of land being divided into smaller parcels for construction of residential or commercial buildings, which is the kind of large-scale development of land, “with an inevitable and concomitant effect on the public generally,” that is contemplated by the MPC.  The Commonwealth Court determined that a patio was only one component of a building, and construction of the roof over the patio is certainly not the type of “large-scale development of land” contemplated by the MPC. The construction of the roof would not increase parking, storm sewer needs, or sewer and water use at the building, nor would it change the amount of impervious surface, result in any increase of water runoff or sewage, increase parking areas, traffic or stormwater, or increase the square footage of the patio itself.  Mere construction of a roof over a previously-approved patio does not transform the patio, which would not otherwise require the submission and approval of land development plans, into a patio requiring such approval.

Similarly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has also determined that the construction of a billboard does not constitute land development within the meaning of the MPC.  The MPC, when viewed as a whole, clearly is intended “to apply to the allocation of land in such a way that issues related to public use, water management, sewers, streets and the like must be addressed.” The construction of a billboard, like raising the roof of an existing building or constructing a roof above a previously-approved structure, does not give rise to concerns relating to sanitary sewer, water, storm water management, parking, driveways, roadways, curbs and sidewalks, and does not increase the footprint, square footage, necessary parking, curbing, sidewalks, sewer, water, or stormwater relating to any existing buildings or structures. Because of these factors, this type of work should not constitute land development.

Therefore, the construction of a roof over an already-paved surface, or other similar work with no effect on issues such as public use, stormwater management, sewers, streets, parking or expansion of building size, may not require municipal land development approval.