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

This is the second post in a two-post series on small cell facilities and the implications of the Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order (the “FCC Order”) that was adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC”) in September.  The first post described small cell facilities, the reasons for the FCC Order, and included a discussion regarding the review standard adopted by the FCC.  This post discusses the fee standards and “shot clocks” that were adopted by the FCC in response to concerns raised by the wireless industry regarding excessive and unreasonable fees charged by municipalities, unequal treatment of small cell facilities compared to other utility facility installations, and lengthy review time periods for applications.

The FCC recognized that the fees charged by municipalities with respect to the deployment of small cell facilities can materially limit or inhibit the ability of the wireless service providers to compete.  Such fees are a critical issue for the industry since it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of small cell facilities will be deployed in the near future.  Excessive or unreasonable fees could serve to effectively prohibit the deployment of small cell facilities by rendering the proposed deployment economically infeasible.

The FCC Order addresses three types of fees charged by municipalities: (1) fees for access to the public rights-of-way; Continue Reading Small Cell Facilities in the Public Rights-of-Way – The FCC Weighs In (Part II)

In an earlier blog post, we looked at distributed antenna system (DAS) networks, a technology that wireless service providers are deploying to address the increasing demand for additional network capacity.  Another technology that is being deployed is the small cell facility.  This is the first post in a two-post series on small cell facilities and the Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order (the “FCC Order”) that was adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC”) in September.  This post describes small cell facilities, provides the reasons the FCC adopted the FCC Order and discusses the review standard adopted by the FCC.  The next post will review the fee standards and “shot clocks” that were adopted by the FCC and some typical ordinance requirements.

Small cell facilities typically consist of a single antenna, attached either to an existing structure (e.g., a light pole, utility pole, traffic signal pole, etc.) or to a new structure, together with a small equipment cabinet.  Small cell facilities provide a much smaller coverage footprint than a traditional wireless antenna facility and are intended to provide additional network capacity in an area where wireless subscribers are more concentrated (e.g., a shopping center, an urban area, etc.).  Small cell facilities are often deployed within public rights-of way which has led to some tension between wireless service providers and municipalities. Continue Reading Small Cell Facilities in the Public Rights-of-Way: The FCC Weighs In (Part I)

In our first post of this three-post series on parking (available here) we discussed Richard Florida’s informative, but not surprising, article which states “American cities devote far too much space and far too many resources to parking.”  Location, ownership and management of existing parking spaces are significant issues impacting parking in communities, and our first post focused on their impacts based on the current approach to parking regulations taken by most communities.  The current approach is unsustainable, as it contributes to sprawl and increases costs.  In this post, we will explore some of the factors causing and impacting the current general approach to parking regulations – specifically with respect to urban reuse and mixed-use projects.

More often than not, communities’ parking requirements, located in zoning ordinances, are onerous enough to derail desirable urban reuse and mixed-use projects.  Most communities’ requirements generally reflect a more suburban approach to parking that is reflective of planning and development trends of the 1950s and 1960s (i.e., separation of uses with an emphasis on accommodating automobiles).

In reviewing several Pennsylvania “urban” municipal zoning ordinances, a few common parking concepts and provisions become evident. Continue Reading Reclaiming “Paradise”: One Parking Space at a Time (Part 2 of 3)

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

Recently, the YMCA servicing my hometown was awarded a significant grant to construct a child care facility at the new YMCA building in Clarion County (https://bit.ly/2x6frxQ).  The award was huge for the community and had a special meaning to me because of all the time my parents put into starting and growing that YMCA.  That good news was followed by Emily Thurlow’s article in the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal (https://bit.ly/2xb96jZ) on September 13, 2018.  I started thinking about the under-utilization of alternative financing options and cost savings available through various statutes for development projects, including those combating blight.

This post is just a teaser.  (Sorry.)  But through the fall and winter you can expect to see follow up posts on our blog related to these topics.  Those posts will explain the purpose and benefits of working with the various development corporations in Pennsylvania, discuss grant and alternative financing options (they’re not just for non-profits!), and explain existing statutes that can help convert blighted properties into prosperous properties.  So stay tuned, and in the meantime, contact your local development corporations and think outside the box!

Every time my daughter gets to choose the show we watch on television she picks some variation of a show where prospective buyers are searching for a tiny house.  The programming on HGTV includes shows like Tiny House Living, Tiny House Hunters, and Tiny House Builders.  This programming, which seems to run constantly, is reflective of the wave of new consumer interest in bucking the American tradition of “bigger is better.”

The tiny house phenomenon makes sense for the consumer.  The initial investment is much smaller than what is needed for a typical single-family detached home, which is particularly appealing to new college graduates with high student debt and retirees on a fixed income.  Moreover, the ongoing costs of maintaining the tiny home are comparatively lower as well.  The tiny house options also create a much smaller carbon footprint, which is appealing to environmentally-conscious consumers.  Therefore, the interest in tiny houses likely will continue to grow at a rapid pace.

But like most new housing trends, the consumer interest is ahead of the land use regulations and municipalities are playing catch up. Continue Reading Tiny Houses – Growing Fast

This Blog previously discussed the headaches created for municipalities and their residents when zoning ordinances are not updated to account for short-term rentals, such as AirBNB and VRBO. But what do municipalities need to do to update their zoning ordinances? What thought processes should be followed? And what other new uses are primed to create – or are already creating – interpretational issues like those created by short-term rentals? This post, and others that will follow, answers those questions. After reading this post, I encourage you to go back and read our prior posts on two short-term rental cases that are case studies for what happens when zoning ordinances are not updated to account for new uses. In addition, please continue to check back over the following months as I introduce our readers to new uses that may not be adequately considered by municipal zoning ordinances. Continue Reading Updating Antiquated Zoning Ordinances: Educate. Evaluate. Amend.

With four million Airbnb listings worldwide, this rapidly growing short-term rental (STR) site and others like it have property owners, neighborhood groups, local government, and the real estate industry running in circles – and looking for a vacation spot. In the case of STRs, hosts are enjoying extra income and municipalities are keeping properties on the tax roll, while some nearby property owners are seeing a spike in their local rental rates or disruption to neighborhoods. In this post, the second in a two-post series (See “Regulating Short-Term Rentals,” by Jamie Strong), we discuss a case out of Lackawanna County decided this past December. The case of interest in this post was decided approximately six months after a case out of Monroe County – now on appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court – was decided by the Commonwealth Court. Continue Reading Short-Term Rentals: When an AirBnB is not really a B&B

The short-term rental (STR) market for using peer to peer rental services such as Airbnb and VRBO has grown significantly in recent years. These services allow property owners to realize the economic benefit of renting all or part of their properties as an STR.   However, there are corresponding concerns raised by neighboring property owners who feel STRs could result in the loss of a sense of community given the transient nature of such a use. The biggest challenge for a municipality that wants to regulate STRs has been attempting to regulate the use under an existing zoning ordinance that does not specifically address the use.

Recent Commonwealth Court cases, most originating in Monroe County, highlight the difficulty that municipalities have in attempting to regulate STRs under zoning ordinances that do not specifically address the use. Continue Reading Regulating Short-Term Rentals