In the wake of coronavirus and associated state and local regulations, many Pennsylvania municipalities are making allowances to permit or expand outdoor restaurant operations on a temporary basis.  For instance, on June 5, 2020, the City of Lancaster (the “City”) adopted an ordinance (the “Ordinance”) to allow restaurants to expand the location of existing sidewalk café operations and further permit “any person…[to] submit an application for a Temporary License for a Temporary Sidewalk Café to the City Engineer”.  In addition, the Ordinance gives the City’s Director of Public Works the power to designate areas within the City as “areas reserved for consumption of food and beverages”.  The Ordinance is effective until December 31, 2020.
Continue Reading Outdoor Dining: The Zoning Implications of a Temporary Solution Becoming a National Trend

Last month, my colleague Christopher Knarr and I presented a webinar for the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (“PSATS”) on the importance flexibility in zoning ordinances. When we put the presentation together in early 2020, we expected to be speaking in person at PSATS’ annual conference. Obviously, COVID-19 changed those plans. The economic impacts of the virus, however, only made our topic timelier.

From national retail chains to local restaurants, every day seems to bring a new headline of another business closure. Even in industries that have remained strong throughout the crisis questions remain about how we will define the “new normal.” Are large office complexes a thing of the past? Can companies reduce their physical footprints (and thus their overhead) by allowing employees to continue to work remotely even after the threat of the virus have waned? And, if we do continue to meet in virtual spaces rather than physical ones, what will happen to the restaurants, retail stores, and offices that we once occupied?
Continue Reading Defining the “New Normal”: How Flexible Zoning Can Help us Rebuild our Communities

The immediate and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to change the way businesses operate and communities plan, zone and regulate land use and development.  Below is a summary of a few issues and trends facing communities and businesses.  Municipalities should proactively approach this “new normal” and consider modifying zoning and other land

As you have undoubtedly heard, the COVID-19 pandemic caused countless businesses to turn to their insurance companies for assistance, making claims under their policies for business interruption coverage.  While every insured’s policy is different, insurance companies are almost universally denying such claims.  Business owners are left frustrated and wondering what exactly they have been paying for when it comes to business interruption coverage.

In denying claims, insurance companies argue that business interruption insurance is not meant to cover closures related to COVID-19.  Under most policies, business interruption coverage only applies if there has been a direct physical loss of use or damage to property related to a covered loss.  While many insureds argue that a virus contaminating the surface of their property is a loss of use, and thus covered, insurance companies have generally rejected such arguments, instead requiring direct physical damage.
Continue Reading Business Interruption Insurance: An Uncertain Path

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

Black Box Kitchens, Dark Kitchens, Ghost Kitchens, or Zombie Kitchens.  Terms like these may sound scary, like the stuff of nightmares.  But these terms are used to describe an emerging food service industry concept known as “virtual restaurants.”

Very simply, virtual restaurants are kitchen-only restaurants.  With the rise of online and mobile app food delivery services, such as GrubHub, Uber Eats, Favor and DoorDash, traditional “brick-and-mortar” restaurants are turning more often to virtual restaurants to keep up with their customers’ preferences and demands.  There are no in-restaurant ordering or dining facilities:  no registers, no servers, no money, no tables or chairs.  Virtual restaurants are commercial kitchens purely for processing, preparing and fulfilling food orders.

Virtual kitchens can take many forms. 
Continue Reading Don’t be Afraid of Ghost or Zombie…Kitchens

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?

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

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, in consultation with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), is currently studying the viability of building a hyperloop tube that would transverse Pennsylvania from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg to Philadelphia and then northeast toward Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  Pennsylvania House of Representatives Resolution 1057 authorized the Commonwealth to conduct a study for a hyperloop system that would facilitate the transportation of passengers and freight at speeds approaching 700 miles per hour in pods that move through low-pressure tubes.

House Resolution 1057 found that the concept of the hyperloop, first described by Elon Musk in 2012-2013, may no longer be a hypothetical notion, given the recent work of states and firms to study and develop the necessary technologies.  In 2018, transportation agencies in Ohio and Illinois announced a study involving a hyperloop that would connect Columbus, Ohio to Chicago, Illinois.  House Resolution 1057 explains that Elon Musk desires to build a hyperloop connecting New York City to Washington, D.C. with a projected travel time of 29 minutes with planned stops in Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Continue Reading A Hyperloop in Pennsylvania: More Than Just a Futuristic Notion?

In an earlier blog post we discussed a zoning case from Lebanon County, Pennsylvania that involved the keeping of ducks as emotional support animals on a residential property.  In that case, the zoning hearing board determined that the ducks were permitted on the property as pets and that the keeping of ducks as pets was not an agricultural operation as alleged in the enforcement notice.  Last month, a zoning hearing board in a York County, Pennsylvania municipality was asked to determine whether the keeping of pot-bellied pigs as emotional support animals on a residential property is permitted.

According to an article published in the York Daily Record, a family acquired two pot-bellied pigs as emotional support animals for their son.  The family also has two dogs and three cats, and all the animals live in the house with the family.
Continue Reading Are Pot Bellied Pigs Pets Too?