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

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

As you have undoubtedly heard, the COVID-19 pandemic caused countless businesses to turn to their insurance companies for assistance, making claims under their policies for business interruption coverage.  While every insured’s policy is different, insurance companies are almost universally denying such claims.  Business owners are left frustrated and wondering what exactly they have been paying for when it comes to business interruption coverage.

In denying claims, insurance companies argue that business interruption insurance is not meant to cover closures related to COVID-19.  Under most policies, business interruption coverage only applies if there has been a direct physical loss of use or damage to property related to a covered loss.  While many insureds argue that a virus contaminating the surface of their property is a loss of use, and thus covered, insurance companies have generally rejected such arguments, instead requiring direct physical damage.
Continue Reading Business Interruption Insurance: An Uncertain Path

On May 4th, 2020 ,the Governor’s Office issued new guidance for businesses as they become authorized to restart in-person operations pursuant to the Administration’s phased red-yellow-green plan.  The guidance, which can be found here, includes a series of mandatory protocols designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 between and among employees and customers.  These protocols are binding upon “[a]ll businesses in all industries and sectors of the economy (including non-profit entities), in the Commonwealth, that are permitted to conduct-in person operations…unless they are otherwise more stringently regulated under separate industry-specific guidance”.

Recently, the Governor’s Office announced that twenty-four Pennsylvania counties will transition to the “yellow” phase on May 8th, thereby authorizing businesses in those counties to restart in-person operations on a limited basis. 
Continue Reading May 8 Opening: Guidance (Portions Mandatory) From The Commonwealth For Businesses

For most Pennsylvanians, it seems much longer than just over a month ago that Governor Wolf issued orders closing all “non-life-sustaining” businesses and directing all residents to “stay-at-home.”  While these orders have saved countless lives, they have also caused several businesses to either alter or shutdown their operations.  Many employees have been furloughed, laid-off or compelled to work from their homes.

Fortunately, modern technology has enabled certain office employees to continue working, not in their office buildings, but from their home offices.  These new home offices may be nothing more than unfinished basements or converted dining rooms, spare bedrooms or even kitchen tables.  These home office activities and functions are considered a form of home-based businesses or occupations (HBBs) as defined, permitted and regulated by most municipal zoning ordinances.  In many instances, new HBBs have been quite successful.  Therefore, while the Governor’s orders are not likely to remain in place in perpetuity, many businesses are considering modifying their operations to support increased use of HBBs even after the orders are lifted.

Many of the municipal HBB regulations were adopted several decades ago and may not reflect modern community planning, business or technology trends.
Continue Reading Modernizing Home Occupation Standards So You Can Continuing Video Conferencing In Your Shorts From Your Basement Outpost