Earlier this year, Claudia Shank blogged about the revival of the Environmental Rights Amendment (the “ERA”) (available HERE) after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Fund v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (2017).  The PEDF decision breathed new life into the 1972 amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, but also left many unanswered questions about the ERA.  The most relevant unanswered question for developers and municipalities was the meaning of the revived ERA in the land use context.  Last week, the Commonwealth Court provided some insight.

In Frederick v. Allegheny Twp. Zoning Hearing Board, 2018 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 593 (Commw. Ct. Oct. 26, 2018), the Court reviewed a substantive validity challenge to a zoning ordinance that permitted oil and gas wells by right in all zoning districts of a township.  In a 5 to 2 decision, an en banc panel rejected the challenge (and the accompanying land use appeal to a zoning permit) that was filed by objectors to an unconventional gas well project in a residential zoning district.  The Court dismissed the objectors’ argument that Continue Reading The Commonwealth Court Begins to Answer What the Environmental Rights Amendment Means to Land Use

In our first post of this three-post series on parking (available here) we discussed Richard Florida’s informative, but not surprising, article which states “American cities devote far too much space and far too many resources to parking.”  Location, ownership and management of existing parking spaces are significant issues impacting parking in communities, and our first post focused on their impacts based on the current approach to parking regulations taken by most communities.  The current approach is unsustainable, as it contributes to sprawl and increases costs.  In this post, we will explore some of the factors causing and impacting the current general approach to parking regulations – specifically with respect to urban reuse and mixed-use projects.

More often than not, communities’ parking requirements, located in zoning ordinances, are onerous enough to derail desirable urban reuse and mixed-use projects.  Most communities’ requirements generally reflect a more suburban approach to parking that is reflective of planning and development trends of the 1950s and 1960s (i.e., separation of uses with an emphasis on accommodating automobiles).

In reviewing several Pennsylvania “urban” municipal zoning ordinances, a few common parking concepts and provisions become evident. Continue Reading Reclaiming “Paradise”: One Parking Space at a Time (Part 2 of 3)

Whether you are a fan of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood or, to a much lesser extent, Will Smith, you are familiar with the Wild (Wild) West.  During my first year as an associate, the members of our Land Use Group described land use hearings, such as a hearing for a conditional use or a variance, as the Wild West as compared to proceedings in a courtroom.  They were not wrong; although, that is not to say land use hearings operate without procedural rules.

This is the third post in what has turned into a four-part series on land use hearings.  The first two posts explained the beginning and ending of hearings, including the public notice requirements and deadlines under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”) for conducting a hearing and reaching a decision.  This post and the next will cover the hearing itself.

Section 908(3) of the MPC describes the “parties to the hearing” as Continue Reading Land Use Hearings – The Wild West

On October 24, 2018, the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners will consider the adoption of Places2040, the new proposed comprehensive plan for Lancaster County.  Prepared by the Lancaster County Planning Commission (“LCPC”) and designed to replace Envision Lancaster County, the County’s current comprehensive plan, Places2040 seeks to establish land use and planning policy to guide the next 20 years of development in Lancaster County. Adoption of the proposed Plan would complete a 3-year planning process that engaged County residents, government entities and targeted stakeholders. Only 94 pages in length, Places2040 is surprisingly concise when compared to typical comprehensive plans and is centered around 5 “Big Ideas”: 1) Creating Great Places; 2) Connecting People, Place & Opportunity; 3) Taking Care of What We Have; 4) Growing Responsibly; and 5) Thinking Beyond Boundaries.

As Lancaster County continues to grow, one of the focuses of the Plan is establishing a path for the County to absorb and accommodate a projected population increase of 100,000 people between 2015 and 2040.  Some of the Plan’s recommendations include Continue Reading Places2040: Lancaster County to Adopt New Comprehensive Plan

Recently, the YMCA servicing my hometown was awarded a significant grant to construct a child care facility at the new YMCA building in Clarion County (https://bit.ly/2x6frxQ).  The award was huge for the community and had a special meaning to me because of all the time my parents put into starting and growing that YMCA.  That good news was followed by Emily Thurlow’s article in the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal (https://bit.ly/2xb96jZ) on September 13, 2018.  I started thinking about the under-utilization of alternative financing options and cost savings available through various statutes for development projects, including those combating blight.

This post is just a teaser.  (Sorry.)  But through the fall and winter you can expect to see follow up posts on our blog related to these topics.  Those posts will explain the purpose and benefits of working with the various development corporations in Pennsylvania, discuss grant and alternative financing options (they’re not just for non-profits!), and explain existing statutes that can help convert blighted properties into prosperous properties.  So stay tuned, and in the meantime, contact your local development corporations and think outside the box!

Every time my daughter gets to choose the show we watch on television she picks some variation of a show where prospective buyers are searching for a tiny house.  The programming on HGTV includes shows like Tiny House Living, Tiny House Hunters, and Tiny House Builders.  This programming, which seems to run constantly, is reflective of the wave of new consumer interest in bucking the American tradition of “bigger is better.”

The tiny house phenomenon makes sense for the consumer.  The initial investment is much smaller than what is needed for a typical single-family detached home, which is particularly appealing to new college graduates with high student debt and retirees on a fixed income.  Moreover, the ongoing costs of maintaining the tiny home are comparatively lower as well.  The tiny house options also create a much smaller carbon footprint, which is appealing to environmentally-conscious consumers.  Therefore, the interest in tiny houses likely will continue to grow at a rapid pace.

But like most new housing trends, the consumer interest is ahead of the land use regulations and municipalities are playing catch up. Continue Reading Tiny Houses – Growing Fast

Most of us have heard the “Big Yellow Taxi” song that includes the memorable line “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”  But what if that paradise is not completely lost and communities started reclaiming their paradise by taking a different approach to their parking regulations?  This is the first in a three-post series discussing the current approach to parking regulations and solutions communities, especially urban communities, should consider to “right-size” their parking requirements to reflect a more sustainable approach.

Richard Florida, a well-respected expert in urban studies, recently posted an interesting article entitled Parking Has Eaten American Cities.  In his post, Florida discusses a recent study by Eric Scharnhorst of the Research Institute for Housing America confirming the findings of previous studies “that American cities devote far too much space and far too many resources to parking.”  Continue Reading Reclaiming “Paradise”: One Parking Space at a Time (Part 1 of 3)

Meeting deadlines is something we all strive for. Whether you’re handing in a project at work, or meeting someone for coffee, making yourself aware of the time is something we do every day. And failure to meet such deadlines creates the potential for undesirable consequences. The same is true for municipalities and developers, as failure by either party to familiarize themselves with the time-restraints imposed by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (the “MPC”) for zoning hearings can create major headaches. This post is the follow-up post to our review of the notice requirements that a board must follow prior to a zoning hearing (available here) and explores two important deadlines to which a board must adhere.

Under Section 908(1.2) of the MPC, the initial hearing before a board must commence within 60 days from the date the board receives the application, unless the applicant agrees in writing to an extension of time. If the board fails to meet this requirement, one of two things can happen. Continue Reading Tick Tock – You’re On the Clock: Navigating Time-Restraints for Zoning Hearings

Wireless service providers, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T, are continually upgrading their networks given the ubiquitous nature of smart phones and the incredible growth of mobile data traffic.  One technology that is being deployed to address this exponential growth and the resulting demand for additional network capacity is distributed antenna system (DAS) networks.  A DAS network is a network of antenna nodes that are deployed to provide wireless coverage to indoor (e.g., arenas, airports, etc.) or outdoor areas.  Some DAS networks are installed by companies that are not wireless service providers and are referred to as neutral host DAS networks since they provide the infrastructure (e.g., antenna nodes, fiber lines, etc.) that carries the wireless traffic of the wireless service providers.

In Pennsylvania, the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) had recognized neutral host DAS network operators as public utilities and issued certificates of public convenience to the operators since 2005.  Continue Reading Are Distributed Antenna Networks Public Utilities? The Commonwealth Court Weighs In

Act 33 was enacted and signed into law on June 18, 2018 to provide counties with greater flexibility in combating blight. The new law, which takes effect 60 days after signing, allows a county to designate a redevelopment authority as the land bank for its jurisdiction.

Since 2012, counties have had the ability to establish land banks under the Pennsylvania Land Bank Act. Land banks are independent public entities created to expedite the process of acquiring and rehabilitating blighted, dilapidated and abandoned real estate. They often work together with redevelopment authorities to help eliminate blight in local communities. But while land banks have been crucial in this fight, many Pennsylvania counties have had active redevelopment authorities performing similar functions for over half a century. Continue Reading Law Allows Counties to Designate Redevelopment Authorities as Land Banks