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: August 2017

Philadelphia City Councilman Lacked Standing to Individually Challenge Grant of Variance

This appeal required the Commonwealth Court to determine if a Philadelphia City Council member had standing to challenge the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment’s (the Board) grant of a variance to create a private driveway.  More specifically, the court had to decide whether or not the First Class City Home Rule Act (the HRA), the Philadelphia Zoning Code (the Code), or the challenger’s status as a council member granted him standing.  The court held that the plain language of the HRA and the Code grants standing to the city council only as a single government body, and it further held that there was no “legislative standing” because the city council’s authority to regulate public streets was not impaired by the granting of this particular variance.

Continue reading

Board of Supervisors Can Appeal Reversal of Conditional Use Denial to Commonwealth Court

This case required the Commonwealth Court to determine whether the Charlestown Township Board of Supervisors (the Board) had standing to appeal a trial court’s order that reversed the Board’s decision to deny a conditional use application.  In holding that the Board did have standing to appeal, the court relied on important differences between boards of supervisors and zoning hearing boards.

Continue reading

Commonwealth Court Holds University Was Not Performing “Official Agency Duties” Required for Noncriminal Investigation Exemption to RTKL When Investigating Structural Failure of Garage

California University of Pennsylvania (the “University”) petitioned the Commonwealth Court for review of a final determination made by Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records (OOR) in January 2017.  The final determination held that records relating to the University’s investigation of a structural failure in an on-campus parking garage were recoverable.  The Commonwealth Court affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part the ORR’s final determination.  Specifically, the Commonwealth Court held that the University failed to show that certain records were exempt from disclosure under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (the “RTKL”) as records of a noncriminal investigation or as records of predecisional deliberations.  However, the Commonwealth Court did remand potentially privileged records to OOR for an in camera review.

Continue reading

US Supreme Court Upholds Land Use Doctrine of Merger of Lots

The Pennsylvania Law Weekly, August 22, 2017

Land use cases do not often wind their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. When they do, the decision is bound to have a ripple effect throughout the land.

Continue reading

Race Car Repair and Maintenance Not Permitted Accessory Use to Residential Dwelling

The DiMattias were issued a zoning violation notice for using a garage and driveway on a residential property they owned in the Township’s R-1 Low Density Residential Zoning District to prepare, repair, and transport race cars. When Landowners purchased the Property in 2009, it contained a single-family detached residence and two garages.  Landowners erected a large pole barn in 2010, and rented out the residence.  In November 2014 the Township issued a notice of violation alleging Landowners were servicing vehicles on the Property from an automobile repair business they owned, and were working on race cars on the Property. The notice directed Landowners to cease and desist their use of the garages and driveway for “servicing vehicles, working on race cars and trailer storage.” Landowners appealed the violation notice to the Township’s Zoning Hearing Board (“ZHB”). The ZHB sustained Landowners’ appeal related to servicing vehicles from their business, but denied it as to their race car activities. The ZHB concluded that their race car activities did not qualify as an accessory use in the R-1 district. Landowners appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, which affirmed the ZHB decision, and Landowners appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

Continue reading

Zoning Appeal to Federal Court Could not be Transferred to State Court After Dismissal on the Merits

In this complaint, the Commonwealth Court was presented with a request to transfer a previously dismissed zoning appeal from federal court back to state court. In finding that transfer was not permitted, the Court ruled that transfer was only permitted when matters were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and both federal courts had dismissed based on the merits.

Continue reading

MPC Section 917 Protection from Subsequently Adopted Ordinances Can be Extended by Zoning Ordinance

In this appeal from the denial of a mandatory sketch plan, the Commonwealth Court was asked to determine whether § 917 of the Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”) imposes an absolute 6-month deadline for acting upon a special exception approval to prevent subsequently adopted ordinance amendments from becoming applicable to the underlying project.  In reversing the decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, the Commonwealth Court found that the 6-month deadline was not absolute and could be extended by a municipality in its zoning ordinance.

Continue reading