Monetization is the process of converting assets into economic value. Looking for more options to generate revenue, municipalities have begun using solar projects to help monetize formerly “passive” or unused public assets, such as vacant land, rooftops, parking lots and storm basins. There is a tremendous upside for such development, and in recent years potential liabilities have shifted from municipalities to the solar companies.

Today’s common model for a municipal solar development is similar to a public-private partnership. The municipality provides the land or space for the project, and the solar company
Continue Reading Monetizing “Passive” Public Assets with Solar Projects

Hopefully, the title alone has George Harrison’s acoustic intro playing in your head.  If not, maybe this will help.

Here comes the sun (doo-doo-doo)
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right

The Beatles’ classic was not foretelling of the arrival of solar energy development projects in Pennsylvania, but it could serve as an anthem now.

Last month, Rachel McDevitt of StateImpact Pennsylvania published an article about the emerging solar energy development “boom” in Pennsylvania.  The article is a wonderful deep dive into the recent growth of solar projects.  It outlines the usual questions and concerns surrounding those projects.

McDevitt notes that
Continue Reading Here Comes the Sun . . . Solar Development in Pennsylvania

Thank you for following our Land Use Blog throughout 2020.  Without spending too much time on the past, please enjoy our Top 5 posts of 2020!

TOP 5 POSTS OF 2020

  1. Jon Andrews, Looking Through the Kaleidoscope – Land Use in Pennsylvania
  2. Claudia Shank, Simplified Zoning: Paradox or New Paradigm?
  3. Peter Wertz, Water Flows Downhill

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?