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?

Yesterday morning on the McNees Minute on ABC 27, I briefly discussed the role local public officials – such as your municipality’s council members, commissioners or supervisors – have in the development and redevelopment processes for our communities.  They play a major role in ensuring our land is developed in a smart, safe and efficient manner that provides for all the needs of a community.  I stressed the importance of electing public officials who are willing to trust municipal staff and other consultants.  In addition, I touched on why it is important to elect public officials who are willing and able to collaborate with developers and property owners.  Finally, I offered that it is equally important for developers and property owners to engage land use professionals who also are collaborative and able to work with elected public officials and municipal staff.  Having forward thinking, collaborative people in each of those roles is vitally important to the future development and redevelopment of our communities.

There are many posts on this blog that discuss or analyze the situation where a municipal ordinance has become antiquated.  We’ve discussed situations where ordinances just haven’t considered
Continue Reading Collaboration: A Better Way to Develop

In baseball, if the base runner and the ball arrive at first base at the same time the tie is resolved in favor of the base runner and they are safe.  Under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), if there is any ambiguity when interpreting a zoning ordinance provision, the ambiguity is interpreted in favor of the property owner and against the extension of any restriction in the ordinance provision.  This rule was applied by the Commonwealth Court recently in the case of Alleman v. North Newton Township Board of Supervisors.

In the Alleman case, the property owner owned approximately 112 acres of split-zoned land in North Newton Township.  Approximately forty acres of the property were in the Township’s Agricultural District and approximately seventy-two acres were in the Township’s Rural Residential District.  The property owner had a hog feeding operation on a portion of the forty acres
Continue Reading A Tie Goes to the Runner (or the Property Owner): Interpreting Ambiguity in Zoning Ordinances

Where do you spend your free time or work on your hobby?

There is a concept in community planning and place making involving three separate but important social environments (or places) where people spend their time.  The first two places are one’s home and one’s workplace.  “Third places” generally include public or community places where people socialize or recreate, including places of worship, health clubs, bars and pubs, restaurants, stores, parks, community centers, etc.  Now developers are creating new third places by combining the “man cave” and “she shed” concepts with mini-storage.  These third places are known as luxury garage units or “car condos.”

The concept is simple.  Rather than renting or leasing unconditioned dead storage space for vehicles, household items or recreational equipment in traditional mini-storage units, luxury garage units are made available for purchase as condominium units and are fully conditioned. 
Continue Reading Man Caves and She Sheds Meet Mini-Storage…It’s a Thing