We mentioned in a prior post that failing to follow procedural requirements for land use hearings can lead to unwanted results for all – or at least most – involved. In a recent example, the Commonwealth Court ruled that Lewis Township’s Zoning Ordinance was void from inception after finding that the Board of Supervisors failed to comply with the Municipalities Planning Code (the “MPC”) requirements for adopting zoning ordinances.
In Yannaccone v. Lewis Twp. Bd. of Supervisors, the Township formed a Zoning Ordinance Committee (“ZOC”) to create a proposed zoning ordinance to present to the Board for adoption. The Board published notice of a public hearing scheduled on the Ordinance. The Board held the hearing in accordance with the public notice and subsequently adopted the Ordinance at a later regularly scheduled meeting. Less than one month after the Ordinance became effective, James Yannaccone, a landowner in the Township, filed suit against the Board. In his complaint, Yannaccone requested that the Ordinance be nullified because the Township failed to comply with the MPC’s public meeting requirements. The trial court ruled in the Board’s favor, holding that the Ordinance was valid and in full force and effect.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court, finding that in the process of preparing the proposed Ordinance, the ZOC failed to hold at least one public meeting pursuant to public notice as required by Section 607(b) of the MPC. MPC Section 607(b) requires that in preparing a proposed zoning ordinance, the planning agency must hold at least one public meeting pursuant to public notice and may hold additional public meetings upon public notice as needed. The Commonwealth Court held that the Board’s failure to issue the prescribed public notice of at least one of the ZOC’s public meetings was a fatal flaw that invalidated the Ordinance’s enactment and rendered the Ordinance void from inception, or void ab initio. Void ab initio is an important legal concept that translates to “void from the beginning.” In practice, it means that a legal document (such as the Ordinance) is considered to never have been valid or enforceable. In other words, the Ordinance never existed.
As you can see, failure to comply with public notice and meeting requirements can create serious unwanted effects on development and problems for a municipality, including unanticipated lawsuits and legal repercussions. Therefore, developers and residents should verify, and municipalities should double check, that required notice and meeting procedures are followed prior to the adoption of a new zoning ordinance.
Please feel free to contact any member of the McNees Wallace & Nurick Land Use Group for assistance with any land use or development issues or if you have any questions regarding this post.