Yesterday morning on the McNees Minute on ABC 27, I briefly discussed the role local public officials – such as your municipality’s council members, commissioners or supervisors – have in the development and redevelopment processes for our communities.  They play a major role in ensuring our land is developed in a smart, safe and efficient manner that provides for all the needs of a community.  I stressed the importance of electing public officials who are willing to trust municipal staff and other consultants.  In addition, I touched on why it is important to elect public officials who are willing and able to collaborate with developers and property owners.  Finally, I offered that it is equally important for developers and property owners to engage land use professionals who also are collaborative and able to work with elected public officials and municipal staff.  Having forward thinking, collaborative people in each of those roles is vitally important to the future development and redevelopment of our communities.

There are many posts on this blog that discuss or analyze the situation where a municipal ordinance has become antiquated.  We’ve discussed situations where ordinances just haven’t considered
Continue Reading

In baseball, if the base runner and the ball arrive at first base at the same time the tie is resolved in favor of the base runner and they are safe.  Under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), if there is any ambiguity when interpreting a zoning ordinance provision, the ambiguity is interpreted in favor of the property owner and against the extension of any restriction in the ordinance provision.  This rule was applied by the Commonwealth Court recently in the case of Alleman v. North Newton Township Board of Supervisors.

In the Alleman case, the property owner owned approximately 112 acres of split-zoned land in North Newton Township.  Approximately forty acres of the property were in the Township’s Agricultural District and approximately seventy-two acres were in the Township’s Rural Residential District.  The property owner had a hog feeding operation on a portion of the forty acres
Continue Reading

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

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

Some Pennsylvania municipalities are throwing out their zoning ordinances and designing fresh ones from scratch, with a little help from their neighbors.  These new and (hopefully) improved ordinances not only include modified zoning districts and adapted language and concepts, but also new zoning maps – sometimes more than triple the size of the old ones.  Although uncommon, this approach – which combines multiple municipal zoning jurisdictions into one, shared jurisdiction – is neither new nor unlawful.  In fact, the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (the “MPC”) dedicates an entire Article to the requirements and implementation of this concept, referred to as “joint municipal zoning.”

The crux of joint municipal zoning is the adoption of a joint zoning ordinance (“JZO”), which is exactly what it sounds like: under Article VIII-A of the MPC, two or more municipalities (“participating municipalities”) may agree to a single zoning ordinance pursuant to a joint comprehensive plan.  The JZO is subsequently prepared by a joint planning commission directed by the governing bodies of the participating municipalities.

The benefits of JZOs are readily apparent, at least in theory
Continue Reading

We mentioned in a prior post that failing to follow procedural requirements for land use hearings can lead to unwanted results for all – or at least most – involved. In a recent example, the Commonwealth Court ruled that Lewis Township’s Zoning Ordinance was void from inception after finding that the Board of Supervisors failed to comply with the Municipalities Planning Code (the “MPC”) requirements for adopting zoning ordinances.

In Yannaccone v. Lewis Twp. Bd. of Supervisors, the Township formed a Zoning Ordinance Committee (“ZOC”) to create a proposed zoning ordinance to present to the Board for adoption. The Board published notice of a public hearing scheduled on the Ordinance. The Board held the hearing in accordance with the public notice and subsequently adopted the Ordinance at a later regularly scheduled meeting. Less than one month after the Ordinance became effective
Continue Reading

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

In a world where technology and community needs frequently out-pace zoning updates, permitting zoning modifications by conditional use is an opportunity for municipalities and developers to collaborate to help ensure development projects are well designed, innovative, publicly supported and, therefore, approved.  Most people involved in zoning and development know that denied variances – (i.e., modifications of the strict application of zoning ordinance provisions) can sink otherwise well designed, innovative and publicly supported projects.  Regardless of the use, district or community, the rigid “hardship” criteria for variances, set forth in Section 910.2(a) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”), are extremely inflexible.  That inflexibility often stymies creativity and constrains innovation.  Indeed, the antiquated criteria is inconsistent with and contrary to other provisions of the MPC and, at times, the desires of many municipalities that wish to accommodate newer development innovations and trends.

Occurring more often are scenarios where variances are necessary to accommodate the preferences of the municipality and to permit innovative and sustainable mixed-use developments with design enhancements.  In such instances, zoning hearing boards, municipal elected and appointed officials, and the public all may agree
Continue Reading

If you have ever watched a live trial or law-related television show, you probably know a few general things about court proceedings: a judge presides over a case and the rules of evidence (Objection, your honor!) govern what parties can and cannot say and do.  While there are similarities in how court proceedings and land use hearings operate, key distinctions exist.  First, there is no separate judge and jury.  The governing body or the zoning hearing board (collectively, the “Board”) does both.  In addition, land use hearings, while structured, are designed to give the Board freedom in its decision process.  This includes the Board’s power to appoint a hearing officer, relaxed rules of evidence (including the hearsay rule), and the opportunity for parties to present arguments and evidence and to conduct cross-examination. 
Continue Reading

For many years, the opinions of non-resident objectors – especially unsubstantiated opinions – were of little to no relevance in zoning hearings, including conditional use and special exception hearings.  However, applicants and municipal officials could see more objectors from other municipalities present testimony and evidence at hearings because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has endorsed the relevancy of that testimony and evidence in certain situations.

In EQT v. Borough of Jefferson Hills, the applicant sought conditional use approval for a natural gas well site in the Borough of Jefferson Hills.  During the public hearing before borough council, objectors from other municipalities testified about the alleged negative effects on health and quality of life that they experienced from a similar well in a neighboring township that was operated by the conditional use applicant.
Continue Reading