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

Tag: commonwealth court of Pennsylvania (Page 1 of 2)

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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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 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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Next to a sewer line? Better connect.

The Commonwealth Court recently determined that when applying mandatory connection ordinances, adjoining or adjacent property owners are subject to the ordinance regardless of how far their “principal building” is from the sewer line. It further held that difficulty in connecting to a sewer line is not grounds for exempting property owners from the ordinance.

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Evidence of Economic Hardship Alone Does Not Make an “Unnecessary Hardship”

Pennswood owned an old school building that had previously been redeveloped into a personal care home.  The building was located in an R2 zone-medium density residential district. In 1986 Pennswood had obtained a variance to operate the personal care home, but due to economic factors such a use was no longer feasible. Therefore, Pennswood applied to the ZHB for a variance to permit it to operate a Treatment Center/Step Down Unit in the property. It argued the property’s prior prohibited use under the zoning ordinance constituted an unnecessary hardship that warranted a variance. The property, it argues, would be rendered almost valueless if the variance were not granted because the physical characteristics of the property limited its use to either a personal care home or a residential step down unit. Further, it presented testimony that it would not be feasible to renovate the Property for residential use as an upscale project because of the cost, the lack of parking, and the fact that that area was more commercial than residential.

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More Than Three Unrelated Individuals Still Do Not Make a “Family”

In this recent Commonwealth Court case several landlords renting single-family properties to students challenged the constitutionality of the Philadelphia Zoning Ordinance’s definition of “family.” Specifically they sought to invalidate the exclusion of “more than three persons unrelated by blood, marriage or adoption” from the definition. In the court’s decision it affirmed the general principles that in Pennsylvania the constitutionality of a zoning ordinance is subject to rational basis review and that ordinances may exclude certain living arrangements from the definition of “family” based on biological and legal bonds.

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Property Maintenance Codes may be retroactively applied in matters of fire and safety

Gettysburg Borough’s retroactive application of a construction code amendment as it applied to the emergency escape access of a property owner’s rental apartments was recently challenged in Commonwealth Court.  In its July 16, 2015 opinion the Court affirmed an order of the Adams County Court of Common Pleas, denying Four Square Property, LLC’s (Four Square) appeal from a decision of the Code Enforcement Appeals Board (Board) of Gettysburg Borough, which found Four Square violated the borough’s Property Maintenance Code by failing to have adequate egress for two basement apartments it rented to tenants.  The Board upheld Four Square’s violation of the Borough’s Property Maintenance Code Ordinance (PMC), for violating section 705.1 of the PMC, which sets forth emergency escape and rescue requirements for basement sleeping areas

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“Where” versus “How”—Commonwealth Court Issues 2 Preemption Opinions in Summer 2015


In June 2015, Commonwealth Court continued a recent line of preemption cases, in Gibraltar Rock Inc. v. New Hanover Township, 1907 C.D. 2014, 2015 WL 3533839 (Pa. Commw. Ct. June 5, 2015).  In Gibraltar Rock, Commonwealth Court considered whether New Hanover Township’s Stormwater Management Ordinance was preempted by the Noncoal Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act (“Noncoal Act”).  Gibraltar sought to develop property for a quarry and associated facilities, and received a Noncoal Surface Mining Permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) authorizing it to operate the quarry.  When Gibraltar sought to begin quarrying operations, New Hanover Township sought to enjoin Gibraltar from quarrying, asserting that Gibraltar did not have the requisite approvals from the township—specifically land development approval, including compliance with the township’s stormwater management ordinance.

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It is not Final until I say its Final: Approving Land Development Plans before all conditions are satisfied

The Commonwealth Court was tasked with considering whether Maxatawny Township’s Board of Supervisors (Board) erred by granting an applicant’s Final Land Development Plan with conditions that were identical to the conditions set forth in the approved Preliminary Plan, when those conditions were not satisfied after the preliminary approval.

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