“Your parking requirements stink!  What do you mean we have to provide 25 times the number of parking spaces than what the ITE says, or we have to get a variance? What is our hardship other than your requirements haven’t been updated in over 50 years? If your parking requirements were a car, they would be considered antique!”

“Your project doesn’t have enough off-street parking! All those vehicles will park in my spot on the street in front of my house and block my three driveways! How will the plow truck get through? Where will the neighborhood kids play?”

Obviously, these outrageous statements are made up, but the underlying premises are true: parking is and continues to be a contentious issue in numerous communities (for example, see here and here). 

Continue Reading Waivers and Modifications for Parking Relief:  What Do You Mean We Don’t Need a Variance?

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”) recently announced the availability of its draft 2024 version of the PAG-02 NPDES general permit for stormwater discharges associated with construction activities for comment. The current version of the PAG-02 permit, which was issued in December 2019, is set to expire state-wide on December 7, 2024. PADEP is accepting comments on the draft 2024 PAG-02 permit through April 8, 2024.

Continue Reading Construction Stormwater Update: Draft PAG-02 Permit Open for Comment

We would not blame you if you said that dealing with attorneys is not your favorite part of being a municipal official. However, in our defense, people use attorneys because they need help with complicated legal processes and disputes that are often difficult for laypeople to fully understand. Moreover, applications involving convoluted and unnecessary steps are not only a source of confusion for applicants, but they also create a heavy burden on municipalities. So here is our take on how to simplify your zoning and subdivision/land development processes, and maybe see less of us attorneys.

Continue Reading Ways to Encourage Controlled and Collaborative Development: Streamline the Process for Zoning, Subdivision, and Land Development Applications (Part III of V)

For Parts I, II, and III, click here, here, and here.

As explained in the prior three posts on this topic, blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we buy, sell, and develop property in Pennsylvania. By leveraging the benefits of blockchain technology, we can simplify and streamline those processes while making them more transparent. It can save time, money, and resources – benefitting property owners, municipal governing bodies, developers, and other stakeholders.

We discussed several ways that the blockchain and smart contracts can benefit our industry. For example: Smart contracts can automate pieces of the sales process, the process of obtaining permits and approvals, the release of plans, and the depositing and release of financial security, among other processes. By recording documents on a blockchain, we make them more accessible and accurate. By creating a shared database of information on the blockchain, we can reduce duplication among agencies and departments and reduce errors. This automatic and tamper-proof approach creates a clean record of transactions, reduces costs, and saves time.

Continue Reading The Future of Real Estate Sales and Development in Pennsylvania with Blockchain Technology (IV of IV)

For Parts I and II, click here and here.

Our prior two posts on blockchain technology and real estate looked at blockchain basics and how it can be used to make real estate transactions and the recording of documents more transparent, efficient, and secure. But I suggest that blockchain technology can do more. Specifically, when it comes to the land use process, which includes zoning, subdivision, land development, and related processes required to develop a property.

Continue Reading Streamlining the Development Process with Blockchain Technology (III of IV)

For Part I of this series, please click here.

Chasing down documents, recovering escrow funds, and worrying about fraud are examples of things in the real estate world that create stress. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your contract will be executed and carried out accurately and without fail? That it will occur almost automatically and with fewer 3rd-party hands touching it along the way? Your work life might be simplified in that case, freeing you up for other matters. Really, the process of transferring ownership of property in Pennsylvania can be complex and time-consuming. It typically involves intermediaries which can add significant costs to the transaction. Perhaps blockchain technology can simplify our lives and reduce transactional costs in the real estate context and elsewhere.

Continue Reading Simplifying the Sale of Property with Blockchain Technology (II of IV)

As of late December 2023, Bitcoin was up more than 60% in the prior four months while another well-known cryptocurrency, Solana, was up over 240%. The cryptocurrencies were on their annual Fall bull run, but there seems to be more to why they have jumped in value in the past several months. At least in my opinion, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and related technologies and concepts are here to stay.

But this post, and the posts that follow, will not provide a primer or deep dive into cryptocurrency – at least not the direct investment potential of it. Rather, this series of four posts will discuss cryptocurrencies’ underlying blockchain technology that has the potential to revolutionize the way we buy, sell, and develop real property. By leveraging the benefits of blockchain technology, we can simplify, streamline, and make more transparent the real estate sales and development process for the benefit of property owners, developers, municipalities, and other stakeholders.

Continue Reading Revolutionizing Real Estate Sales and Development One Block at a Time (Part I of IV)

Often times, property owners wish to develop their property in a manner that differs from what is allowed by their local zoning ordinance. When this happens, the property owner must seek and obtain a “variance” from their municipality’s zoning hearing board. Pursuant to Section 910.2(a) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, the board may grant a variance if all of the following relevant factors are established:

(1) That there are unique physical circumstances or conditions, including irregularity, narrowness, or shallowness of lot size or shape, or exceptional topographical or other physical conditions peculiar to the particular property and that the unnecessary hardship is due to such conditions and not the circumstances or conditions generally created by the provisions of the zoning ordinance in the neighborhood or district in which the property is located.

(2) That because of such physical circumstances or conditions, there is no possibility that the property can be developed in strict conformity with the provisions of the zoning ordinance and that the authorization of a variance is therefore necessary to enable the reasonable use of the property.

(3) That such unnecessary hardship has not been created by the appellant.

(4) That the variance, if authorized, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood or district in which the property is located, nor substantially or permanently impair the appropriate use or development of adjacent property, nor be detrimental to the public welfare.

(5) That the variance, if authorized, will represent the minimum variance that will afford relief and will represent the least modification possible of the regulation in issue.

One of the biggest hurdles for property owners is proving that there is an “unnecessary hardship” impacting their property. The hardship must be directly tied to the unique physical circumstances or conditions of the property (e.g., size, shape, location, topography, etc.) and cannot be justified by economic burden or financial loss. While a hardship inquiry looks principally to the physical characteristics of the property that is the subject of the variance request, a 2022 Commonwealth Court decision, Canivan v. Honesdale Borough Zoning Board, illustrates how changes in the use of the property and physical conditions external to the property can also contribute to a legally cognizable hardship.

Continue Reading Zoning Variances: How a “Hardship” May Evolve Over Time

Tighter credit, lower asset valuations and changes in consumer demand will force property owners to reimagine how real estate assets are currently used and to deploy new tools to ensure real estate assets are being used for the highest and best use in a rapidly changing environment.

If real estate assets are showing signs of vulnerability like protracted vacancies, maturing debt with challenging refinancing terms on the horizon, or depressed valuations, early action may help provide breathing room in a more challenging real estate operating environment. Here is a snapshot of some things real estate owners should be thinking about to help navigate difficult times.

Continue Reading Challenging Market Conditions Require Commercial Real Estate Owners to Find Creative Solutions

In recent months, several media outlets have reported on potential redevelopment concepts and initiatives for the Colonial Park Mall site in Lower Paxton Township and the Harrisburg Mall site in Swatara Township, both located in Dauphin County, PA.

As mentioned before in this blog, large, older enclosed shopping malls that include vast expanses of underutilized parking spaces have been declining for the past several decades.  In fact, several hundred of these shopping malls have permanently closed, while several hundred more continue to struggle to stay viable and relevant.  Some of the factors contributing to these declines and closures include: (i) inconvenient, inefficient, and outdated format and layout; (ii) costs of maintaining or retrofitting large, unique single-purpose buildings nearing or exceeding their functional life expectancies; (iii) rise of online retailing and e-commerce; (iv) social and economic impacts of COVID-19; (v) vacant tenant spaces; and (vi) lack of foot-traffic. 

Continue Reading Municipalities Help to Breathe New Life into Vacant or Underutilized Shopping Mall Sites