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

Perhaps consistent with the spirit of giving this time of year, the General Assembly recently provided a gift to homeowner associations (“HOA”) across the Commonwealth by signing Act 84 into law.  Act 84, which was enacted and signed into law on October 19, 2018, made some notable changes to the Pennsylvania Uniform Planned Communities Act and the Uniform Condominium Act (“Acts”).  Before discussing the details, it is important to note that whether Act 84 will have retroactive effect is unclear; thus, it is possible the changes it brings apply only prospectively.

The key changes made by Act 84 involve (1) additional enforcement options for HOAs against their unit owners (i.e. homeowners) and (2) timing limitations to enforce the warranty against structural defects.  This blog post addresses the new enforcement options for HOAs and a later post will discuss the changes involving the warranty against structural defects. Both changes take effect December 18, 2018.

Act 84 broadened the rights available to HOAs when enforcing delinquent assessments or violations of a declaration, bylaws, or rules and regulations by unit owners. Continue Reading Act 84 – You Don’t Want To Be On An HOA’s Naughty List

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 what has turned into a four-part series on land use hearings.  The first two posts 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

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

Act 33 was enacted and signed into law on June 18, 2018 to provide counties with greater flexibility in combating blight. The new law, which takes effect 60 days after signing, allows a county to designate a redevelopment authority as the land bank for its jurisdiction.

Since 2012, counties have had the ability to establish land banks under the Pennsylvania Land Bank Act. Land banks are independent public entities created to expedite the process of acquiring and rehabilitating blighted, dilapidated and abandoned real estate. They often work together with redevelopment authorities to help eliminate blight in local communities. But while land banks have been crucial in this fight, many Pennsylvania counties have had active redevelopment authorities performing similar functions for over half a century. Continue Reading Law Allows Counties to Designate Redevelopment Authorities as Land Banks

A recent Commonwealth Court decision affirmed that municipalities within Pennsylvania are not immune from claims of adverse possession.  In City of Philadelphia v. Galdo, 181 A3d. 1289 (Pa. Commw. 2018), the Commonwealth Court held that the City of Philadelphia had lost title to a property that it had previously condemned to an adjacent property owner who adversely possessed the property.

The City had acquired the property in 1974 by condemnation for the purpose of allowing PennDOT a temporary right-of-way across the property during the construction of an adjacent roadway.

Continue Reading Municipalities Can Lose Property Through Adverse Possession

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

This is the second post in a two-post series on the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”), with which developers and water companies see the return of a tax policy with negative consequences for development.  Effective this year, advances for construction (“Advances”) and Contributions in Aid of Construction (“CIAC”) for water systems are treated as taxable income.  Essentially, water companies must include in taxable income the contributed property or cash needed to connect a development to a water system.  This tax adds significant costs to developers when water companies pass the tax to developers.  At the same time, more work is created for water companies which must gross up Advances and CIAC (together, “A/CIAC”) and later recalculate those costs based on the actual cost of construction and gross up refunds.  This post provides insight on ways to mitigate the negative effects of the TCJA on development in Pennsylvania. Continue Reading UPDATE! Developers Beware! Water lines may cost more thanks to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act – Part 2