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

Tag: J. Leavitt

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.

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Borough did not Breach Contract When it Incorrectly Issued Building Permits to Developer

Cornell applied to the Borough for building permits to construct detached single-family homes on a four-lot subdivision. Before submitting, Cornell met with the Borough Manager and the company that performed building inspections (the “Building Inspector”) to discuss construction. The Borough informed Cornell that local ordinances did not require automatic sprinkler systems in detached single-family residences. Cornell thereafter obtained building permits. The permit applications stated the residences would be constructed with pre-engineered wood roof trusses and would not have automatic sprinklers. The Building Inspector visited the site throughout construction, and performed a final inspection when the first residence was completed.  The Building Inspector told the Borough to issue the certificate of occupancy, but the Borough refused on the basis that automatic sprinklers were required in homes constructed with pre-engineered wood roof trusses. The Building Inspector thereafter refused to perform final inspections of the remaining residences until sprinklers were installed.  Cornell filed suit against the Borough and Building Inspector in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County asserting claims for: (1) breach of contract; (2) promissory estoppel; (3) negligent misrepresentation; (4) violation of the equal protection clause of the US Constitution; and (5) violation of the equal protection clause of the Pennsylvania constitution. The Borough asserted that Cornell’s allegations, while couched as contractual or quasi-contractual claims, were “clearly based upon negligence” and, thus, were barred by the Tort Claims Act. The Building Inspector argued it had acted as the Borough’s employee in its capacity as the appointed building inspector, and was therefore also immune from liability under the Tort Claims Act. The trial court granted the Borough and Building Inspector’s motions for summary judgment, and rejected Cornell’s contract claims.  The trial court reasoned the alleged contractual “promise” was unenforceable because the permits were freely revocable by the Borough. It further concluded the promissory estoppel claim was actually a negligence claim, and it and the negligent misrepresentation claim were barred by the Tort Claims Act. Lastly it rejected the equal protection claims. Cornell appealed.

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Sporadic Flooding of Property by Sewage Treatment Plant a De Facto Taking of Property

In this condemnation case out of Luzerne County, the Commonwealth Court determined that the sporadic flooding of a property adjacent to a sewer treatment plant constituted a de facto taking under the Eminent Domain Code.  The Court reasoned that the Mountaintop Area Joint Sanitary Authority (the “Authority”) made specific decisions that resulted in the flooding of the interior and exterior of Colleen DeLuca’s property, and the Authority was aware of the adverse consequences of those decisions.

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Mandamus Actions Appropriate Vehicle to Enforce Unappealed OOR Determinations

In this petition to enforce a final determination of the Office of Open Records (“OOR”) the Commonwealth Court was asked to determine how can enforce OOR determinations where no appeal has been taken of that determination.  The Court concluded that a mandamus action, not a petition to enforce, was the appropriate legal vehicle, but found no error in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County’s denial of the petition on the merits.

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Municipalities Cannot File Enforcement Actions Until All Appeals of Underlying Violation Exhausted

In this zoning enforcement dispute out of Montgomery County, the Borough of West Conshohocken sought to obtain $130,500 in penalties for an ongoing zoning violation that had accrued while the property owner’s challenged the violation notice in court.  Concluding that the enforcement action was premature, the Commonwealth Court held that the Borough was not entitled to impose fines while the underlying appeal remained pending.

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Right-of-Way Constituted “Street” to Satisfy “Lot Width at Street Line” Requirement in Zoning Ordinance

In this appeal from a preliminary opinion of Lower Merion Township, the Commonwealth Court was asked to determine what constituted a “street” when a zoning ordinance requires a specific “lot width at street line.”  In finding that a right-of-way allowing access to a land-locked property constituted a “street” for purposes of determining lot width at street line, the court held that the two requirements for a “street” were that the right-of-way provide: (1) a means for vehicular travel, and (2) space for sewers and public utilities.

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Underlying Merits of Applications Irrelevant in Determining Deemed Approval

In this mandamus action out of Washington County, a billboard company (“All State”) sought to compel a Borough to issue billboard permits after Borough Council failed to act on the applications for nearly 6 months. The Court of Common Pleas of Washington County granted summary judgment, based in part on the fact that the proposed billboards would only have been permitted if the zoning ordinance were found to be exclusionary.  The Commonwealth Court reversed, stating the underlying merits of the applications was irrelevant where a deemed approval was asserted, and remanding the matter to determine whether the applications had been deemed approved.

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Vacation Rental of Entire Home Does Not Qualify as Tourist Home Use

In this appeal of a zoning violation notice, the Commonwealth Court was asked to determine whether short-term rentals of entire properties, made common by services such as AirBnB, are encompassed by existing definitions for more traditional uses, such as tourist homes, hotels, or motels.  In strictly applying the terms of the applicable ordinance, the Court concluded that “shoe-horning” such uses into existing definitions was improper, and the regulation of such uses must be done by amending the applicable zoning ordinance.

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No Liability Under Section 13 and 15 of Storm Water Management Act Unless County Watershed Storm Water Plan in Place

In this interlocutory appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, the Commonwealth Court was asked to interpret the Storm Water Management Act (the “Act”).  Precisely, the court was asked to determine whether a county watershed storm water plan must be in place for a defendant to be liable for violations of Sections 13 and 15 of the Act. In finding that such a plan was a prerequisite to liability, the court affirmed the trial court’s determination and limited liability to flooding instances after such a plan was in place.

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Order Granting Declaratory Relief Related to Uniform Planned Community Declaration Not Subject to Motion to Compel

In this dispute over the placement of air conditioning equipment, the Commonwealth Court was presented with an appeal from a trial court’s order to compel compliance with its earlier order declaring a property owner was subject to certain provisions of a uniform planned community declaration.  In reversing the order, the court held that because the earlier order had granted declaratory relief, it could not have directed any specific action by the property owner and thus the community association’s motion to compel was premature. Continue reading