Municipalities Planning Code

There is a common misconception among municipal officials and planners in Pennsylvania, something similar to the following:  “The State told us we have to update our comprehensive plan.”

While the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”), the Commonwealth’s enabling legislation, certainly permits municipalities to plan and regulate land use and development, the MPC does not require municipalities to either:  (i) adopt local comprehensive plans or ordinances; or (ii) revise such plans or ordinances.

But when municipalities choose to prepare and adopt local land use or development plans or ordinances, the MPC sets forth certain procedures, timeframes and contents to which municipalities must adhere or incorporate.

While Section 301(c) of the MPC states “[t]he municipal … comprehensive plan shall be reviewed at least every ten years,” nowhere does the MPC require municipalities to revise local comprehensive plans. [Emphasis added].

Interestingly, while the MPC does not require municipalities to adopt or revise local comprehensive plans, counties on the other hand, are required by the MPC to not only prepare and adopt county comprehensive plans, but also revise such plans.

Continue Reading Quit Bossin’ Us Around: Oh Wait, You’re Not.

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

On June 30, Governor Wolf signed Senate Bill 554, which amended Pennsylvania’s open meeting law more commonly referred to as the Sunshine Act.  The amendment places new requirements on municipalities for providing notice of business to be conducted at meetings and limits action on business that was not included in that notice.  What does that mean for developers who have business before those municipalities?

Senate Bill 554 generally amends the Sunshine Act (the “Act”) in two places.  First, Section 709(D) of the Act is amended to address the notice that is required for business to be conducted at any municipal meeting (this would include governing bodies, planning commissions, zoning hearing boards, etc.). The municipal agency must
Continue Reading More Sunshine? What Do Changes to the Sunshine Act Mean to Developers?

As mentioned before in this blog, an increasing number of state and local governments are revising plans and zoning regulations to help overcome the exclusionary effects of single-family only zoning.  The purpose of these initiatives is to provide additional housing opportunities that are affordable to more people in more areas.  Zoning revisions may include permitting multiple dwelling uses by right in zoning districts that normally are less dense.  Examples of uses include:  (i) garage apartments or accessory dwelling units on
Continue Reading Uncle Sam Giving You More Chances to Love More New Neighbors?

Since the 1920s, a large sign has overlooked downtown Pittsburgh from nearby Mount Washington.  Mount Washington is well known for its funiculars, the Monongahela Incline and the Duquesne Incline.  Recently, it has also been known for the controversial sign which has been at the center of an ongoing dispute between the City of Pittsburgh and Lamar, the owner of the sign.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Lamar Advantage GP Company, LLC v. City of Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment, et al., recently resolved the dispute in favor of Lamar.

The sign at issue is a large concrete structure.  From the 1930s to 2016, the larger concrete sign structure supported a smaller electronic display.  In 2014, Lamar proposed
Continue Reading Supreme Court: Yinz Can Keep Your Sign

If I told you that, in Pennsylvania, municipal (including county) planning agencies, such as planning commissions or planning department staff, are permitted to act on subdivision or land development plans (“SLD Plans”) and related waivers or modifications, most of you would likely say that I’m wrong, crazy, or flat out lying!  Most of you would say that planning agencies are to review and make recommendations on SLD Plans, and that governing bodies (e.g., councils, supervisors or commissioners) take action to approve or deny SLD Plans and waivers or modifications.  Well, most of you would be right, but only partially.
Continue Reading You Can’t Do that in Pennsylvania! Or Can You?: Planning Commissions Approving Subdivision/Land Development Plans

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

In two earlier blog posts from 2018, found here and here, we discussed the 2018 FCC Order, including the fee standards and “shot clocks” that were adopted by the FCC.  Of particular interest to municipalities were the fee standards and the safe harbor fees that municipalities are permitted to charge for small cell facilities.  To recap, the 2018 The FCC Order addressed three types of fees charged by municipalities: (1) fees for access to the public rights-of-way; (2) fees for the use of governmental property located in the public rights-of-way; and, (3) application review fees.  The safe harbor fees under the 2018 FCC Order are
Continue Reading Small Cell Facilities in the Public Rights-of-Way: The Ninth Circuit Weighs In

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

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