Tomorrow is Halloween.  In honor of the holiday, I’d like to spend some time reflecting on a use that is ubiquitous this time of year: the cemetery. We don’t often talk about them in a planning context, but cemeteries are an important part of our built environment.  Unlike most other land uses, they are generally permanent in nature. However, despite the fact that cemeteries are present in nearly every community, they are often overlooked as a land use category in zoning ordinances. Similarly, they are rarely incorporated, or even referenced, in comprehensive plans.

Although admittedly dated, this 1950 article from the American Society of Planning Officials breaks the cemetery problem into two categories: maintenance and use of existing cemeteries, and planning for new ones. Continue Reading Cemeteries: Planning Perspectives and Modern Trends

A kaleidoscope is an optical instrument that presents an ever-changing view for those looking through it.  In many ways, this reminds me of life as a real estate developer in Pennsylvania.  The approval process landscape is ever-changing from project to project and municipality to municipality.  With every twist of the land use kaleidoscope the path to a successful project looks a little (or a lot) different than the last one.

There are approximately 2,500 municipalities in Pennsylvania.  Between 2,100 and 2,200 have their own set of zoning regulations – each different than the other – that shape how land can be developed in that municipality.  Think of those zoning regulations as one color of glass inside the kaleidoscope.  But picture looking through that kaleidoscope you had as a child – there are multiple colors, right? Continue Reading Looking Through the Kaleidoscope – Land Use in Pennsylvania

In an earlier blog post, we discussed how the Commonwealth Court reversed the decision by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) to no longer issue certificates of public convenience to neutral host distributed antenna system (“DAS”) network operators.  Having a certificate of public convenience is important to a DAS network operator since it affords the operator access to public rights-of-way and limits the applicability of municipal regulation to DAS networks.  The Commonwealth Court had determined that the PUC’s new interpretation of the statutory language was not entitled to much deference and was not supported by the statutory language, precedent or federal law.  The PUC appealed and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s decision.

The Court first held that the Commonwealth Court was Continue Reading Are Distributed Antenna Networks Public Utilities? The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Has Decided

By now, most people have become aware of the exclusionary effects of single-family only zoning.  Cities and states have started to flip the concept of single-family only zoning on its head.  Cities like Minneapolis and Seattle and states like Oregon, California and Minnesota have passed (or are considering) legislation essentially outlawing single-family only zoning.  In these states and cities, laws or ordinances now permit additional dwelling types, such as accessory dwellings (i.e., granny-flats), duplexes, triplexes or quadplexes in areas that were formerly zoned exclusively for single-family detached dwellings.  These ordinances and laws are intended to remove land use and housing regulations that have served as economic, social or racial barriers for certain classes or groups of residents, by increasing access to more diverse or affordable housing options in areas previously off-limits.  Surprisingly, these laws and ordinances have broad-based support from disparate groups ranging from developers, home builders and chambers of commerce to housing or social service providers and activists (see YIMBYs).

By way of background, beginning in the early 1900s, communities started zoning most of their land exclusively for single-family detached dwellings. Continue Reading Here is Your Chance to Love More New Neighbors (or Even Create that Family Compound You Have Always Wanted)

In the wake of coronavirus and associated state and local regulations, many Pennsylvania municipalities are making allowances to permit or expand outdoor restaurant operations on a temporary basis.  For instance, on June 5, 2020, the City of Lancaster (the “City”) adopted an ordinance (the “Ordinance”) to allow restaurants to expand the location of existing sidewalk café operations and further permit “any person…[to] submit an application for a Temporary License for a Temporary Sidewalk Café to the City Engineer”.  In addition, the Ordinance gives the City’s Director of Public Works the power to designate areas within the City as “areas reserved for consumption of food and beverages”.  The Ordinance is effective until December 31, 2020. Continue Reading Outdoor Dining: The Zoning Implications of a Temporary Solution Becoming a National Trend

Last month, my colleague Christopher Knarr and I presented a webinar for the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (“PSATS”) on the importance flexibility in zoning ordinances. When we put the presentation together in early 2020, we expected to be speaking in person at PSATS’ annual conference. Obviously, COVID-19 changed those plans. The economic impacts of the virus, however, only made our topic timelier.

From national retail chains to local restaurants, every day seems to bring a new headline of another business closure. Even in industries that have remained strong throughout the crisis questions remain about how we will define the “new normal.” Are large office complexes a thing of the past? Can companies reduce their physical footprints (and thus their overhead) by allowing employees to continue to work remotely even after the threat of the virus have waned? And, if we do continue to meet in virtual spaces rather than physical ones, what will happen to the restaurants, retail stores, and offices that we once occupied? Continue Reading Defining the “New Normal”: How Flexible Zoning Can Help us Rebuild our Communities

In recent months, the Coronavirus pandemic and reignited social unrest following the death of George Floyd have highlighted ongoing issues in our communities regarding unequal access to quality healthcare, affordable housing and educational opportunities. As society struggles with identifying all the causes of this disparate treatment, we sometimes forget the role in that system that land use ordinances historically played and continue to play to this day. Land use ordinances can be used to socially engineer a community under the guise of “planning.”

We are taught that zoning began as a community building tool in the United States as a way of ensuring “compatible” uses were near each other and incompatible uses were separated. The thought was that stronger communities could be built by keeping zones or districts of compatible uses together. But has this been the only use of zoning? Continue Reading Land Use Ordinances: Tools for Community Planning or Social Engineering?

From our friends at Capitol Buzz:

As more counties move into the “yellow” and “green” phases of the Wolf administration’s plan to reopen the Commonwealth, Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Wednesday updated guidelines for dining services and professional sports. The governor also provided additional information and elaborated on general guidelines for “green” phase counties, issuing an updated order for those municipalities moving in the “green” phase on Friday.

Gov. Wolf said beginning June 5, restaurants and other retail food businesses located in “yellow” phase counties will be allowed to provide outdoor dine-in services, in addition to the already approved take-out and delivery options. Those offering outside dining will need to obey certain requirements, including maximum occupancy limits, closing off indoor areas of the business to customers except for through-traffic, and mandating customers to be seated at tables in order to receive service. The guidelines also prohibit self-serve food and drink options, such as buffets and drink stations.

In addition, Gov. Wolf issued guidelines for Pennsylvania’s sports teams to resume practices and competitions within the Commonwealth. The new guidance will allow pro teams to resume activities in “yellow” and “green” phases of the governor’s reopening plan, but without spectators and fans attending the events.

Read the full alert HERE.

The immediate and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to change the way businesses operate and communities plan, zone and regulate land use and development.  Below is a summary of a few issues and trends facing communities and businesses.  Municipalities should proactively approach this “new normal” and consider modifying zoning and other land use ordinances to the extent necessary to meet the new needs of residents and workers.

  • Small cell antennas – More people than ever are remotely working or schooling from their homes. As a result, more devices are connected to telecommunications networks and more data is being used.  To help boost network coverage and capacity in high-volume usage areas, telecommunications service providers are installing more small (micro) cell antennas on utility, traffic light and other poles or buildings within or in close proximity to residential neighborhoods.
  • Drive-throughs, curbside pickup lanes, “to-go” parking spaces and “walk-up” windows – Retail and restaurants are adjusting their business practices and services to protect their employees’ and customers’ health. In addition to food and drink delivery services, more businesses are incorporating drive-throughs, curbside pickup lanes, “to-go” parking spaces or “walk-up” windows as accessory uses customarily incidental and subordinate to these businesses.
  • Distribution facilities – E-commerce is booming. The extent to which people order and receive goods and products that traditionally were purchased in person in a “brick-and-mortar” building has been increasing for years.  However, the pace at which e-commerce has been growing is even faster now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Customers want their orders to be delivered to their homes as quick as possible.  To meet these increasing demands, businesses are repurposing former big box retail buildings and shopping malls to establish smaller distribution or fulfillment centers that are in close proximity to residential neighborhoods.
  • Virtual restaurants –Online and mobile app food delivery services have grown quickly in recent months and may not go away even after restaurants can re-open in their traditional form. To meet these demands, restaurants are establishing virtual restaurants, commercial kitchens purely for processing, preparing and fulfilling food orders.  There are no in-restaurant ordering or dining facilities:  no registers, no servers, no money, no tables or chairs.
  • Home workspaces – Modern technology has enabled more office employees than ever to remotely work from their homes. As long as they have a computer and internet service, many employees can seamlessly perform nearly all of their work functions from the comfort of their homes.
  • Repurposing unused buildings – With more people working from home, and less people making in-person retail purchases or traveling and seeking overnight accommodations, there could be a potential reduction in the demand for space in “brick-and-mortar” office, shopping mall or hotel (motel) buildings. The corresponding increase in the amount of these unused buildings provides additional opportunities to repurpose these buildings for new uses.  While several studies indicate the demand for workforce housing continues to increase, there is a potential that some of these unused office, shopping mall or hotel buildings (or their surrounding parking areas) in certain areas could be repurposed to provide for new uses, including additional housing options.  Several of these buildings are located within or near business centers along major multi-transportation corridors with a full range of public utilities and services.

As communities and businesses look to begin recovering from the effects of COVID-19, we encourage developers, business owners and municipalities to collaboratively examine these and other issues and trends and get creative to ensure ordinances are up-to-date, flexible and sustainable.  By specifically permitting these desirable or necessary businesses and uses and removing unnecessary regulatory roadblocks, communities and businesses may be more resilient, impacted less, and quicker to recover from this or future crises.

Please contact any member of the McNees Wallace & Nurick Land Use Group with questions regarding this post or for assistance with any land use issues.

The Governor vetoed HB 2412 today, but he also opened limited business transactions for real estate sales. From the Governor’s Office:

“Governor Tom Wolf today announced that starting today, businesses and employees in the real estate industry may conduct limited business-related activities statewide and provided guidance for this industry to operate in red phase and yellow phase counties.”

“We continue to review our policies and the scientific data to determine the safest approach for all activities in the commonwealth,” Governor Wolf said. “While at this point more than two-thirds of the state will be in the yellow phase of th Continue Reading Governor Wolf: Real Estate Industry May Conduct Limited Business Transactions Statewide