On June 30, Governor Wolf signed Senate Bill 554, which amended Pennsylvania’s open meeting law more commonly referred to as the Sunshine Act.  The amendment places new requirements on municipalities for providing notice of business to be conducted at meetings and limits action on business that was not included in that notice.  What does that mean for developers who have business before those municipalities?

Senate Bill 554 generally amends the Sunshine Act (the “Act”) in two places.  First, Section 709(D) of the Act is amended to address the notice that is required for business to be conducted at any municipal meeting (this would include governing bodies, planning commissions, zoning hearing boards, etc.). The municipal agency must Continue Reading More Sunshine? What Do Changes to the Sunshine Act Mean to Developers?

The Commonwealth Court recently found that a Stroud Township ordinance prohibiting the unauthorized discharge of firearms in the Township did not pass constitutional muster.  The constitutionality of the ordinance was challenged by a Township resident who had submitted a permit application for a proposed shooting range on his property that was denied by the Township zoning officer.  The resident’s property was located in the Township’s R-1 Low Density Residential Zoning District.  The ordinance in question permitted the discharging of firearms at shooting ranges but only at locations where the use is permitted by the Township’s zoning ordinance.  The zoning ordinance permits shooting ranges in two of the Continue Reading Shooting Ranges Are Protected Under the Second Amendment

If you attend municipal meetings regularly (like yours truly), you know that stormwater management is a frequent topic of discussion and debate. Simply put, stormwater is the precipitation which flows off impervious surfaces during a weather event rather than infiltrating into the ground. Naturally, development of any type changes stormwater infiltration and runoff patterns. In today’s world, even small construction projects Continue Reading Grab Your Umbrella- Here Comes the Rain (Tax)

As mentioned before in this blog, an increasing number of state and local governments are revising plans and zoning regulations to help overcome the exclusionary effects of single-family only zoning.  The purpose of these initiatives is to provide additional housing opportunities that are affordable to more people in more areas.  Zoning revisions may include permitting multiple dwelling uses by right in zoning districts that normally are less dense.  Examples of uses include:  (i) garage apartments or accessory dwelling units on Continue Reading Uncle Sam Giving You More Chances to Love More New Neighbors?

As mentioned before on this blog, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”) has a plan in place to improve Harrisburg’s Beltway.  The I-83 Master Plan is the agency’s effort to address worsening road conditions, high traffic volumes, and safety along the I-83 corridor through Harrisburg.  More details about the plan can be found here:  I83 Capital Beltway- Home (i-83beltway.com).

The project, like many other initiatives, has been delayed by the pandemic, but PennDOT is now moving forward with its plans to complete Section II and Section III of the Master Plan.   The agency has begun its efforts to acquire the land it needs to expand the highway.  PennDOT needs to Continue Reading PennDOT’s Capital Beltway Project Is Moving Forward

Since the 1920s, a large sign has overlooked downtown Pittsburgh from nearby Mount Washington.  Mount Washington is well known for its funiculars, the Monongahela Incline and the Duquesne Incline.  Recently, it has also been known for the controversial sign which has been at the center of an ongoing dispute between the City of Pittsburgh and Lamar, the owner of the sign.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Lamar Advantage GP Company, LLC v. City of Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment, et al., recently resolved the dispute in favor of Lamar.

The sign at issue is a large concrete structure.  From the 1930s to 2016, the larger concrete sign structure supported a smaller electronic display.  In 2014, Lamar proposed Continue Reading Supreme Court: Yinz Can Keep Your Sign

Every trial lawyer knows that credibility determinations are typically left to the finder of fact. Whether it’s a jury, a judge, or a zoning hearing board, the finder of fact has the opportunity to personally observe the witnesses who present evidence in a matter. As a result- so the theory goes- reviewing courts should defer to those first-person observers rather than trying to substitute their judgment after merely reading the transcript. But what are the limits of this deferential standard?

Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court positioned itself to address this issue in the context of a land use appeal when it granted allocator in the case of Project PT v. Penn Township Zoning Hearing Board and Olympus Energy LLC. The Project PT case originated in Penn Township (“Township”), Westmoreland County, where unconventional natural gas development (often referred to as “fracking”) is permitted by Continue Reading PA Supreme Court to Consider Concept of “Credibility” in Fracking Case

Pennsylvania counties and municipalities could see a windfall from the nearly $14 billion in aid that will be delivered to the Commonwealth through the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act (“Rescue Act”).  While it will be welcome financial relief, counties and local governments should be aware of the rules and regulations regarding how those funds should be spent.  In fact, the Rescue Act rules and requirements will present similar challenges to the CARES Act requirements for local governments.

Last year, Zelenkofske Axelrod (“ZA”) helped nearly half of the state’s 67 counties navigate the regulatory issues related to the federal CARES Act financial relief package. Continue Reading With Great Funding Comes Great Responsibility: Assisting Municipalities with American Rescue Plan Compliance

If I told you that, in Pennsylvania, municipal (including county) planning agencies, such as planning commissions or planning department staff, are permitted to act on subdivision or land development plans (“SLD Plans”) and related waivers or modifications, most of you would likely say that I’m wrong, crazy, or flat out lying!  Most of you would say that planning agencies are to review and make recommendations on SLD Plans, and that governing bodies (e.g., councils, supervisors or commissioners) take action to approve or deny SLD Plans and waivers or modifications.  Well, most of you would be right, but only partially. Continue Reading You Can’t Do that in Pennsylvania! Or Can You?: Planning Commissions Approving Subdivision/Land Development Plans

Monetization is the process of converting assets into economic value. Looking for more options to generate revenue, municipalities have begun using solar projects to help monetize formerly “passive” or unused public assets, such as vacant land, rooftops, parking lots and storm basins. There is a tremendous upside for such development, and in recent years potential liabilities have shifted from municipalities to the solar companies.

Today’s common model for a municipal solar development is similar to a public-private partnership. The municipality provides the land or space for the project, and the solar company Continue Reading Monetizing “Passive” Public Assets with Solar Projects