Pennsylvania Real Estate, Land Use, Zoning, and Municipal Lawyers

This blog features case law related to real estate, land use, zoning, and municipal law in Pennsylvania

Month: July 2016

County Commissioner’s Handwritten Notes Did Not Constitute “Records” Under RTKL

This case required the Commonwealth Court to determine whether or not a county commissioner’s handwritten notes regarding phone conversations with private citizens, which were never relied on for official action, constituted public records under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL).  Ultimately, the court held that these notes did not document a transaction or official business activity under the RTKL.  Therefore, it affirmed the trial court’s decision that the notes were not subject to disclosure.

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DOJ Sues Bensalem Township for Alleged Unequal Zoning Treatment of Proposed Mosque

On July 21, 2016, the Department of Justice has filed a complaint against Bensalem Township for allegedly giving a proposed mosque harsher zoning treatment than similar institutions.  The claims arise under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).  42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc–2000cc-5.  RLUIPA prohibits a government from imposing burdensome zoning restrictions on religious groups.

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Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Holds That Tax Sale Resulted in Transfer of Surface and Subsurface Property Rights

This dispute involved the subsurface rights to a property in Rush Township, Centre County, Pennsylvania.  The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was asked to determine whether a 1935 tax sale resulted in the transferring of only the surface rights to the property.  The Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court and upheld the “title wash” tax sale principle, meaning the tax sale resulted in the transfer of the entire property, not merely the surface rights.

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Commonwealth Court Finds That Sunoco Properly Exercised Eminent Domain Powers After Receiving Certificate of Public Convenience from State Agency

The Commonwealth Court was required to determine whether or not Sunoco had authority to condemn property in order to advance phase two of its Mariner East pipeline project.  Several property owners challenged the condemnations, arguing that Sunoco was not regulated by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) and, therefore, could not exercise the eminent domain powers of the Commonwealth.  The Commonwealth Court agreed with Sunoco, holding that the company was regulated by PUC for purposes of those portions of the project occurring solely in Pennsylvania.

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Commonwealth Court Holds That Sunday Go-Cart Racing Was Natural Expansion of Prior and Legal Nonconforming Use at Recreational Park

This case required the Commonwealth Court to examine a prior nonconforming use at a recreational park open to the community.  Hunterstown Ruritan Club (the “Club”) sought to expand its go-carting operations to include racing on Sundays.  While the Straban Township Zoning Hearing Board (the “Board”) prevented the Club from doing after deeming it impermissible because it was not a use reflected in the Club’s certificate of nonconformance, the Commonwealth Court reversed and remanded, holding that the Club’s previous racing events on Sundays entitled it to protection.

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Commonwealth Court Holds Bethlehem Landowner Had Right to Convert Deli to Restaurant

The applicant owned property in the city of Bethlehem, which was zoned RT High Density Residential.  The applicant operated a deli on the property, which was a nonconforming use.  The deli had been in business since the board approved a change in the use of the property from insurance office to a deli in 1998.  The deli began operating at a loss in 2010.  The applicant sought to expand the deli to a restaurant, which the applicant argued was a reasonable use of the property, for the survival of the business.

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Commonwealth Court Holds That a Variance May Not Be Granted When Hardship Asserted Relates Solely to Landowner’s Desire for Increased Profitability

The Commonwealth Court was required to determine whether or not a zoning board can grant density and lot-width variances without proof of hardship.  The court ruled that when the asserted hardship amounts to nothing more than the landowners desire to increase the profitability of his or her land, a variance is improper.

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Commonwealth Court Holds That While OOR May Grant Time Extension, Agencies Not Relieved of Duty to Disclose Due To Large Volume of Requested Records

This Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) dispute involved fourteen consolidated cases. Fourteen State System of Higher Education Universities (the Universities) appealed from an Office of Open Records (OOR) final determination that granted two requesters access to records related to the Universities’ budgets and finances.  The Commonwealth Court was required to address (1) whether the requests were specific enough to enable the Universities to locate responsive records, (2) whether the large number of records requested made the request non-specific, and (3) whether the Universities should be given more time to review the records due to the large number of records requested.  The court held that an agency is not relieved of its duty to produce responsive records due to the size of the request, but an agency may be granted a time extension by the OOR if the agency can show that more time is truly needed for proper review.

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