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NAVIGATING LAND DEVELOPMENT AND ZONING REGULATIONS

If you’re contemplating a commercial or industrial development project, you likely will have to navigate your way through complex legal regulations and ordinances. HKQ Law Attorney Richard Williams cautions that “it’s not just the laws that are complex. The entire approval process can be extremely challenging.” Having the guidance of an experienced attorney is invaluable.

Subdivision and Land Development

The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) provides municipalities with the authority to enact subdivision and land development ordinances (SALDO). Where a county enacts an ordinance, and a borough, city, township, town, or home rule municipality has not enacted an ordinance, the county ordinance will apply.

The subdivision and land development review and approval process generally begins with the submission of a set of preliminary land development or subdivision plans. This is typically the most expensive and time-consuming phase of the process as it can involve numerous ordinances, many of which have become more and more complex over the years.

As provided in the MPC, a municipality has 90 days to review the plan to determine if it satisfies the requirements of the ordinance. The plan is deemed approved if the municipality does not render a decision within 90 days. (Because the process typically takes longer, applicants have the option of extending the review period. However, they should never agree to an indefinite extension.) Typically, once the municipality has prepared review letters with comments, the applicant reviews the comments and submits a revised plan which addresses the municipality’s concerns.

Once the preliminary plan has been approved, the applicant prepares and submits a Final Plan, which largely follows the preliminary plan process. At this point in time, the applicant is typically working concurrently with outside agencies, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and other third parties in order to obtain needed permits and approvals. Upon final approval, the applicant needs to record the final plan with the local Recorder of Deeds within 90 days.  An appeal can be filed in a Court of Common Pleas within 30 days of the decision if the application is denied.

Sometimes, a subdivision and land development ordinance causes hardship or proves unreasonable. Sections 503(8) and 512.1 of the MPC provide for relief from the strict application of a requirement in the form of a modification or waiver. Although all are requests for relief, a modification or waiver must not be confused with relief granted by a variance from the requirements of a zoning ordinance.

Zoning

Under MPC, municipalities are authorized to enact, amend and repeal zoning ordinances. However, a municipality is not required to enact a zoning ordinance.

Zoning ordinances “should reflect the policy goals of the statement of community development objectives, and give consideration to the character of the municipality, the needs of the citizens and the suitabilities and special nature of particular parts of the municipality.” However, the courts consistently have held that, where there is a conflict between the municipality’s comprehensive plan and a zoning ordinance, the latter prevails as it is regulatory in nature whereas the comprehensive plan is merely recommendatory.

A zoning ordinance may permit, prohibit, regulate, restrict and determine, to the extent not superseded or preempted by certain state or federal acts:

  • Uses of land, watercourses and other bodies of water
  • Size, height, bulk, location, erection, construction, repair, maintenance, alteration, razing, removal and use of structures.
  • Areas and dimensions of land and bodies of water to be occupied by uses and structures, as well as areas, courts, yards, and other open spaces and distances to be left unoccupied by uses and structures
  • Density of population and intensity of use
  • Protection and preservation of natural and historic resources and prime agricultural land and activities
  • In addition to provisions regulating the siting, density and design of residential, commercial, industrial and other developments, a zoning ordinance may also contain provisions for special exceptions, variances, conditional uses, transferable development rights; provisions encouraging innovation; provisions for sewer and water supplies; and provisions for administration, implementation and enforcement of the ordinance.

An aggreived landowner may appeal a zoning hearing board’s adverse decision to the Court of Common Pleas. Typically, however, a board’s decision will be reversed only when it is determined that it committed an abuse of discretion or otherwise erred as a matter of law.

Navigating regulations and ordinances and working through the governmental approval process can be very complex tasks. HKQ Law can assist developers through the entire land development/ zoning process – from application to appeal. To speak with a real estate zoning and land use attorney, call HKQ Law’s Commercial Team at (800) 760-1529. 

About Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn, PC

Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn is considered one of the top civil litigation and commercial law firms that has had the privilege of representing more families in the courtroom than any other NEPA firm. The attorneys at HKQ Law have been honored as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Best Law Firms by US News and World Reports, and have received the AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbel. HKQ Law was recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania.

The firm’s Personal Injury Team, led by Attorney Joe Quinn, Jr., has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history, totaling over a half billion dollars on behalf of injured clients. The Personal Injury Team focuses on a wide array of personal injury claims and civil litigation, including medical malpractice, auto and truck accidents, aviation accidents, unsafe vehicles, dangerous or defective products, workplace injuries (worker's compensation), construction site accidents, claim denials by insurance companies, dangerous drugs, defective children's products, nursing home abuse and neglect, and falls due to unsafe conditions (slip and fall).

Attorney Joseph A. Quinn, Jr. is one of only 100 attorneys in the United States (and one of only three in Pennsylvania) honored with membership in the Inner Circle of Trial Advocates, and one of only 500 attorneys worldwide chosen to be a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He has been a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer every year since the program began and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America every year since the publication was established in 1987. Best Lawyers also named him top personal injury attorney for Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. In addition, Best Lawyers, in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report, has designated HKQ a Tier 1 Best Law Firm for personal injury and medical malpractice litigation in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Since the inception of the firm, the Commercial / Corporate Team led by Attorney Allan Kluger has provided comprehensive, integrated legal services to many of Northeastern and Eastern Pennsylvania's largest corporations, businesses, banks, non-profits and institutions, handling matters involving labor and employment, wills, trusts and estate planning, estate administration, elder law, commercial transactions, residential and commercial real estate, zoning, land use and development, telecommunications, mediations and arbitrations, commercial litigation, title insurance, business planning and business succession, corporate/business structuring, employment discrimination law for employers, banking, creditor’s rights, finance, lender liability defense, covenants not to compete, construction law, mergers and acquisitions and other business matters.

Additional information can be found at www.HKQLaw.com or by calling (800) 760-1529 (1LAW).

				

 

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