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)

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

With protestors afoot outside the Capitol building in Harrisburg, Governor Wolf provided additional information on the Commonwealth’s plans to begin reopening businesses, including construction sites, within Pennsylvania.  Per the Governor, “limited construction” activities will be permitted to resume on May 8, to the extent such activities can occur in compliance with job site regulations the

Thank you to our friends at Capitol Buzz and the McNees Government Relations Group (MSSG) for a great update on bills working their way through the PA General Assembly, which affect public meetings and hearings, construction activities and more.  A few highlights are below, but you should read the entire Capitol Buzz post.

On Tuesday, along strict party lines, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a Republican-sponsored proposal to allow many businesses impacted by Gov. Tom Wolf’s business shutdown order to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House passed Senate Bill 613, which includes language introduced by House Republicans last week to reopen the state’s workforce while practicing social distancing and other mitigation efforts outlined by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The legislation was sent
Continue Reading Updates On Public Meetings & Hearings, Construction Activities, and More from the General Assembly

In her post, Public Meetings Amidst Social Distancing, on the McNees Public Sector Blog, Erica Wibble, provides a great update on guidance for municipalities trying to comply with the Sunshine Act during the COVID-19 pandemic and under Governor Wolf’s Order (which we have discussed in numerous other posts).  A few highlights are below, but please be sure to read her entire post for more details.

According to the Office of Open Records, any agency [not able to meet in person] must provide a reasonably accessible method for the public to participate and comment pursuant to Section 710.1 of the [Sunshine] Act. Further, the Office of Open Records strongly recommends that any agency holding such a meeting should record the meeting and proactively make the recording available (preferably online) so that a full and complete record of the meeting is available to the public.
Continue Reading Guidance on Conducting Municipal Meetings/Hearings During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Overview of Force Majeure
With COVID-19 headlines dominating the news cycle, and with no end in sight to the uncertainty that the virus brings, affected businesses are wise to consider whether the current pandemic qualifies as a “force majeure.”  In the last few weeks, the Chinese government has issued “force majeure certificates” to domestic businesses as a way of shielding companies from breach of contract claims, American businesses are sending mass e-mails to customers explaining that the virus prevents the company’s performance or operations, and businesses in an array of industries have sent formal inquiries to their service providers seeking confirmation of continued performance.

What is “Force Majeure”
The defense of force majeure will excuse a party’s performance under a contract if
Continue Reading Force Majeure Provisions and the Impacts of COVID-19

Please see below regarding the Governor’s order from our Government Relations and Labor & Employment Groups.  Do not hesitate to contact anyone at McNees with questions, including how this order might apply to your job site, project approvals or your office.  McNees is a full service law firm that remains operational, remotely and in compliance with the Governor’s order.  We are ready and able to continue to support our clients’ needs during this trying time.

UPDATE: Latest on Gov. Wolf’s Closure Order amid COVID-19 Outbreak

 As detailed in a special edition of Capitol Buzz sent on Thursday evening, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all “non-life-sustaining” businesses throughout Pennsylvania to physically close their operations in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. The new directive, which went into effect at 8 p.m. on Thursday evening, contains the threat of enforcement action
Continue Reading Governor Wolf’s Closure Order

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?