When purchasing, selling, or developing real estate, business owners should be attentive to the market value of their property. Put simply, market value is “the price a purchaser, who is willing, but not obliged to buy, would pay an owner, willing, but not obliged to sell, taking into consideration all uses to which the property is adapted and might in reason be applied.” Not only does market value drive transactions, but valuations are also integral for those seeking a mortgage. If the property is being used as collateral, market value will determine the amount of credit given to an individual. Further, market value factors into the amount of property tax charged on a portion of property.

Pennsylvania appraisers use three methods to arrive at a property’s market value: 1) the Sales Comparison Approach (SCA); 2) the Cost Approach Method (CAM); and 3) the Income Approach (IA). No one method is an exact science, and there are benefits and detriments to each based on the differing characteristics of your property.

Continue Reading What’s Your Property Worth? How Pennsylvania Appraisers Calculate the Market Value of Real Estate

Fans of the series “The Office” may remember the episode “Money” which shows Jim and Pam’s first visit to Schrute Farm, a working beet farm fictionally set in northern Pennsylvania.  Dwight describes how Schrute Farm is open to visitors as it offers certain on-farm activities and experiences, including beet wine making, manure spreading, tours of the fields and barns, Cousin Mose’s table making demonstration, overnight stays in one of the three themed rooms (i.e., America, Irrigation and Nighttime), and of course, use of the outhouse. Dwight goes on to explain that “Agritourism is a lot more than a bed and breakfast. It consists of tourists coming to a farm. Showing them around. Giving them a bed. Giving them breakfast.”

Continue Reading Schrute Farm and PA’s Agritourism Protection Act

Business owners are constantly looking for ways to remain competitive and take advantage of trade opportunities. Often, this means businesses will incorporate new operations or undergo expansion to generate supplemental sources of income. Before renovating or adding onto facilities to accommodate expanded operations, however, business owners should confirm that such an expansion is permitted under local zoning regulations.

In Pennsylvania, almost every municipality maintains its own zoning ordinance that regulates how a property in a specific zone can be used. While a business may begin its operations when a use is expressly permitted, changes in zoning ordinances can render the use nonconforming. In that case, if a business was legally established at its present location, the use will be permitted to continue, despite now being prohibited, because it is a lawfully pre-existing nonconformity (“nonconforming use”).

Pennsylvania law provides certain protections to nonconforming uses. One such protection is the right to expand, in accordance with the court-created natural expansion doctrine. In sum, the doctrine permits a landowner to expand a nonconforming use despite its nonconforming status. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that this right is not unlimited, however, and municipalities may impose reasonable restrictions on the expansion of a nonconforming use.

Continue Reading Expanding Your Business may Implicate Pennsylvania’s Doctrine of Natural Expansion

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act (Act 50) which took effect on August 29, 2021.  Act 50 addresses the deployment of small wireless facilities, including new utility poles to support the facilities, in the public rights-of-way.  The term “small wireless facility” is defined in Act 50 (generally each antenna can’t be more than three cubic feet in volume) and such facilities are permitted by right anywhere in a municipality with the exception of areas where the municipality requires all cable and utility facilities to be located underground.  However, the municipality must permit an applicant to seek a waiver from the underground requirement for the installation of a new utility pole to support a facility.

Continue Reading Small Wireless Facilities in the Public Rights-of-Way: New State Regulations Impact Municipalities

Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology—contemporary buzzwords dominating conversations in the modern era. But what exactly comes to mind when these buzzwords are referenced? Alternative currency? Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin? Investment? Hedging? Disruption? While these associative terms are likely commonplace, they only begin to scratch the surface with respect to the breadth of the topic. Ultimately, a deep dive into the cryptocurrency and blockchain world presents wide-ranging implications that have the potential to touch nearly all aspects of our world. Such implications stretch from the practical minutia of how the SEC defines a security to the theoretical vulnerabilities of the dollar’s reserve currency status.

This blog post is the first entry in a series of posts that will seek to shed light on the crypto/blockchain buzzwords, particularly in relation to the legal ramifications touching commercial real estate.

Continue Reading Cryptocurrencies & Blockchain: Implications for Commercial Real Estate

Manager vacancies are increasingly common, with many long-term managers contemplating retirement and others taking advantage of a very hot labor market.  With tight budgets and lean staffing, most municipalities do not have the luxury of grooming a clear heir apparent.  But there are some things you can do now to prepare, and there are certainly best practices that you can consider if your municipal or authority manager position becomes vacant. Continue Reading Webinar: Manager Succession Planning

The Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation (“CAEDC”) is hosting a series of roundtable discussions focused on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on various industries across the Cumberland Valley. Panelists representing affected industries will discuss, among other things, the pandemic’s effect on production, delivery, labor, material, logistics, childcare and health issues.

The series, labeled “Come Back to Cumberland Valley: Economy Series”, kicked off on August 25, 2021 with a construction Webinar analyzing the pandemic’s impacts on the industry from March 2020 to the present. The panelists, which comprised of professionals of varying backgrounds and expertise, including real estate attorney Jon Andrews of McNees Wallace & Nurick, also discussed strategies for effectively navigating the next 18 months in a post-COVID climate.

Continue Reading Come Back to Cumberland Valley: Economy Series

Problem:  A clean, renewable energy (CRE) developer is proposing to construct a solar energy project on land within a rural agricultural area of our community. We have government goals and initiatives promoting the reduction of carbon footprints by accelerating the pace of replacing dependence on fossil fuels with CRE sources (e.g., solar, wind). At the same time, similar goals and initiatives suggest supporting farmers and preserving more farmland. We think that both are important. Do we create a win-lose scenario by supporting one and sacrificing the other?

Answer: You may not have to choose. Continue Reading Agrivolatics: Two for One – Harvesting Crops and Solar

On June 30, Governor Wolf signed Senate Bill 554, which amended Pennsylvania’s open meeting law more commonly referred to as the Sunshine Act.  The amendment places new requirements on municipalities for providing notice of business to be conducted at meetings and limits action on business that was not included in that notice.  What does that mean for developers who have business before those municipalities?

Senate Bill 554 generally amends the Sunshine Act (the “Act”) in two places.  First, Section 709(D) of the Act is amended to address the notice that is required for business to be conducted at any municipal meeting (this would include governing bodies, planning commissions, zoning hearing boards, etc.). The municipal agency must Continue Reading More Sunshine? What Do Changes to the Sunshine Act Mean to Developers?

The Commonwealth Court recently found that a Stroud Township ordinance prohibiting the unauthorized discharge of firearms in the Township did not pass constitutional muster.  The constitutionality of the ordinance was challenged by a Township resident who had submitted a permit application for a proposed shooting range on his property that was denied by the Township zoning officer.  The resident’s property was located in the Township’s R-1 Low Density Residential Zoning District.  The ordinance in question permitted the discharging of firearms at shooting ranges but only at locations where the use is permitted by the Township’s zoning ordinance.  The zoning ordinance permits shooting ranges in two of the Continue Reading Shooting Ranges Are Protected Under the Second Amendment