Over the course of 2022, rising interest rates and inflation slowed the housing market frenzy. As a result, for the first time since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, residential homebuilders may find themselves with excess inventory. If your company is in this situation, it is important to understand when real estate taxes can be assessed against new construction, including model and spec homes (even when they are being used temporarily as a sales or leasing office), or even partially leased multi-family buildings. It may be later than you think! Continue Reading To Assess or Not to Assess? Temporary Tax Exemption for New Residential Construction
Kicking off 2022, we can celebrate a win for builders and developers with the enactment of PA Senate Bill 208, which was signed into law by Governor Wolf on December 22, 2021.
SB 208 made numerous changes to Section 509 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (the “MPC”), which deals with posting financial security to guarantee completion of the public improvements depicted on a plat. Pursuant to Section 509, a municipality can require a developer to post financial security (usually in the form of a letter of credit or a bond) in an amount equal to 110% of the cost of the public improvements shown on the plan before releasing it for recording. These bonded improvements typically include roads, stormwater and drainage facilities, open space improvements, and required buffer landscaping.Continue Reading Amendments to the MPC Clarify Municipal Bonding Requirements
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)
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
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
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
Attending public meetings is a big part of any land use practitioner’s routine, and, if I’m being honest, one of my favorite parts of my job. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I traveled one, two, sometimes even three nights a week to meetings of zoning hearing boards, municipal governing bodies, and planning commissions. While I understand that a township board of supervisors meeting might not be everyone’s idea of a fun Thursday night, I like watching government at work. In today’s world, how many spaces exist where citizens can engage directly with their elected officials?
Of course, when COVID-19 cases began to appear in Pennsylvania, all of this changed. Businesses (including ours) started to adapt to social distancing requirements by replacing in-person meetings with audio and video conference calls. Municipalities, however, bound by the Sunshine Act and other open meeting requirements, faced a unique set of challenges. How could boards, councils and committees continue to conduct business and ensure public participation while protecting the health and safety of residents?
Continue Reading Public Meetings in Pajama Pants: Land Use in the Age of COVID-19
During the COVID-19 pandemic, real estate professionals have struggled to get documents notarized while respecting social distancing requirements. The Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts (RULONA), after all, requires an individual making a statement or executing a document to “appear personally” before the notarial officer. Recent direction issued by the Department of State which can be found here, however, indicates that the physical presence requirement in RULONA will be relaxed on a temporary basis for certain types of real estate transactions.
For personal residential real estate transactions
Continue Reading **UPDATE: In-Person Notary Requirements Relaxed for Real Estate Transactions**
When I first read Lancaster County’s Places2040 Comprehensive Plan (you can read my summary of the Plan adopted in October 2018 HERE), one “Catalytic Tool” caught my eye in particular: simplify zoning. Make no mistake, complicated zoning ordinances are not unique to Lancaster County. In Pennsylvania, where land use is controlled at the municipal level, there is often no consistency in how zoning is regulated from one township, borough, or city to the next. To add further complication, municipal boundaries don’t always align with places, communities and corridors. As a result, two comparable properties located in the same neighborhood can be governed by vastly different zoning regulations. With a system that is so fractured, how can we meaningfully work towards simplifying zoning in Lancaster County and across the Commonwealth?
To answer this question, the Lancaster County Planning Commission (“LCPC”)
Continue Reading Simplified Zoning: Paradox or New Paradigm?
In a series of posts last year (available HERE and HERE), I discussed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s revival of the long-dormant Environmental Rights Amendment (“ERA”) to the Pennsylvania Constitution. This summer, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court authored another chapter in the ERA saga. Stick with me, because it is about to get technical…
As you may recall, in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Fund (“PEDF”) v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the ERA created a public trust, the corpus of which was all of Pennsylvania’s public natural resources. In this analogy, the Commonwealth is the trustee and Pennsylvania’s citizens are the named beneficiaries of the trust. When state park land is leased by Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for oil and natural gas extraction, any royalties – monthly payments based on the gross production of oil and gas at each well – are proceeds received in exchange for trust assets. As a result, royalties must be returned to the trust as part of its corpus. In other words, they are earmarked for the conservation and maintenance of Pennsylvania’s natural resources.
Continue Reading PEDF v. Commonwealth Redux: The Commonwealth Court Weighs In