Municipalities Planning Code

The definition of “accessory” is “a thing which can be added to something else in order to make it more useful, versatile, or attractive.”  This definition is particularly relevant in the zoning context where an accessory use is a useful, versatile and attractive tool for maximizing the use of property.

The typical approach to determining whether land can be used for an intended purpose is to check the zoning ordinance to see what uses are permitted expressly in the zoning district.  For example, if the commercial zoning does not permit standalone convenience stores with fuel pumps, the developer may resign itself to seeking a use variance or requesting that the municipality amend the ordinance.  Neither of those approaches Continue Reading Accessory Uses Part I: Worth Much More Than a Secondary Thought

In our first two posts (Part 1 and Part 2), we discussed current approaches used by many communities to regulate parking, factors contributing to those approaches, and how those approaches are not sustainable because they consume large amounts of space and money.  Great anecdotal evidence of what we described is provided annually in a post from “Strong Towns” titled “The Best of #BlackFridayParking.”  It is worth a look.

In this, our third and final post, we discuss a few solutions communities, especially those seeking to encourage and support mixed use reuse, infill and redevelopment projects, may wish to consider when “right-sizing” their parking regulations.  In order to gauge impacts and determine the success of the parking solutions, we suggest limiting the following solutions by area (e.g., parcels, blocks or neighborhoods) or zoning district: Continue Reading Reclaiming “Paradise”: One Parking Space at a Time (Part 3 of 3)

In a prior post on the history of zoning in Pennsylvania, Jamie Strong cited the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, stating less than a third of Pennsylvania’s 2,561 municipalities have no zoning regulations.  He wrote that, in general, it is the “more rural, less developed and less populated municipalities” in Pennsylvania that lack zoning.  As of 2015, 98.2% of Pennsylvania’s urban population was zoned while only 68.9% of the rural population was zoned.

Such is not the case in Texas, where Houston, the state’s largest city, is “without” zoning.  Houston is the butt of many zoning jokes – all of which are as dull as you’d expect a zoning joke to be.  Nonetheless, it is a fascinating case study showing us how our cities and towns might look without the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code and local land use ordinances.  (Google “pictures of Houston zoning.”)  I recently read a few articles examining the effects of how Houston has handled development over the last 100 years.  Two of the articles led me to the conclusion that Houston’s land use problems, whether real or perceived, have more to do with its historical lack of a comprehensive scheme – most notably, a comprehensive plan, than with a lack of zoning regulations. Continue Reading Houston, We Have a (Planning) Problem

Whether you are a fan of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood or, to a much lesser extent, Will Smith, you are familiar with the Wild (Wild) West.  During my first year as an associate, the members of our Land Use Group described land use hearings, such as a hearing for a conditional use or a variance, as the Wild West as compared to proceedings in a courtroom.  They were not wrong; although, that is not to say land use hearings operate without procedural rules.

This is the third post in a four-part series on land use hearings.  The first two posts (Post 1 and Post 2) explained the beginning and ending of hearings, including the public notice requirements and deadlines under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”) for conducting a hearing and reaching a decision.  This post and the next will cover the hearing itself.

Section 908(3) of the MPC describes the “parties to the hearing” as Continue Reading Land Use Hearings – The Wild West

On October 24, 2018, the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners will consider the adoption of Places2040, the new proposed comprehensive plan for Lancaster County.  Prepared by the Lancaster County Planning Commission (“LCPC”) and designed to replace Envision Lancaster County, the County’s current comprehensive plan, Places2040 seeks to establish land use and planning policy to guide the next 20 years of development in Lancaster County. Adoption of the proposed Plan would complete a 3-year planning process that engaged County residents, government entities and targeted stakeholders. Only 94 pages in length, Places2040 is surprisingly concise when compared to typical comprehensive plans and is centered around 5 “Big Ideas”: 1) Creating Great Places; 2) Connecting People, Place & Opportunity; 3) Taking Care of What We Have; 4) Growing Responsibly; and 5) Thinking Beyond Boundaries.

As Lancaster County continues to grow, one of the focuses of the Plan is establishing a path for the County to absorb and accommodate a projected population increase of 100,000 people between 2015 and 2040.  Some of the Plan’s recommendations include Continue Reading Places2040: Lancaster County to Adopt New Comprehensive Plan

Meeting deadlines is something we all strive for. Whether you’re handing in a project at work, or meeting someone for coffee, making yourself aware of the time is something we do every day. And failure to meet such deadlines creates the potential for undesirable consequences. The same is true for municipalities and developers, as failure by either party to familiarize themselves with the time-restraints imposed by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (the “MPC”) for zoning hearings can create major headaches. This post is the second post of a four-part series (Post 1Post 3, Post 4 to come) and follows our review, in Post 1, of the notice requirements that a board must follow prior to a zoning hearing.  This post explores two important deadlines to which a board must adhere.

Under Section 908(1.2) of the MPC, the initial hearing before a board must commence within 60 days from the date the board receives the application, unless the applicant agrees in writing to an extension of time. If the board fails to meet this requirement, one of two things can happen. Continue Reading Tick Tock – You’re On the Clock: Navigating Time-Restraints for Zoning Hearings

A recent Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court case sought to explain (and possibly expand?) the scope of standing in zoning matters and land use appeals.  To enjoy standing in a land use appeal, it is well-established that a person or party must have a “substantial, direct and immediate interest” in the outcome of the matter.  Frequently, such an interest is established by demonstrating that the objector lives near the property that is the subject of the appeal.  In nearly all cases, someone living directly adjacent to a project site has standing; but how far does the scope of standing extend?   Continue Reading Can Seagulls Establish An Objector’s Standing? The PA Commonwealth Court Weighs In…

In all facets of life, simple mistakes or a lack of understanding can lead to unwanted results. In the world of land use, such unwanted consequences can occur when required notice procedures for zoning hearings are not strictly followed. This blog post, the first of a four-post series reviewing the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code’s (the “MPC”) zoning hearing requirements, reviews both the public notice and written notice requirements that zoning hearing boards (the “Board”) must follow prior to the first hearing.  The three other posts, in which we discuss hearing timing requirements and the rules of the hearing, itself, are available here: Post 2, Post 3, and Post 4 to come.

Under Section 908(1) of the MPC, a Board must give “public notice” of the hearing. “Public notice” is defined in the MPC as “notice published once each week for two successive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality.” The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court interpreted “successive weeks” to be Continue Reading An Important Notice – Regarding Notice

Zoning is, at its core, the municipal regulation of the use of land.  Today, a municipality regulates the use of land by implementing a zoning ordinance.  However, as far back as the 18th century, land use regulations were enacted in Pennsylvania.  Early land use regulations in Pennsylvania and elsewhere were generally concerned with preventing the spread of fires.  For example, an act was adopted in the 1700s that prohibited baking and barrel making except in shops or places built of masonry.  After the Revolutionary War, a law was adopted that prohibited storing more than 30 pounds of gunpowder within two miles of Philadelphia.  The concept of setbacks (i.e., the required distance between a structure and a property line) was implemented to provide for adequate distances between buildings to prevent the spread of fires.

Lower Merion Township was the first municipality in Pennsylvania to adopt a zoning ordinance. Continue Reading A Brief History of Zoning in Pennsylvania

A large-scale natural gas liquids pipeline project traversing the Commonwealth has shed light on an oft misunderstood legal principle regarding the municipal regulation of utilities. Municipalities typically operate under the assumption that essentially all land uses, including public utilities, are subject to municipal regulation to at least some degree (e.g., zoning ordinances, subdivision and land development ordinance, etc.). But, most public utility facilities actually are not subject to local regulation. A pair of recent Commonwealth Court cases reinforce this legal principle that is nearly sixty-five years old but rarely reflected in municipal ordinances. Continue Reading What do you mean that pipeline isn’t subject to zoning regulations?