Chanceford Aviation Properties, LLP v. Chanceford Township, 923 A.2d 1099 (Pa. 2007).

The Airport Zoning Act (“AZA”) requires municipalities with public airports to adopt and enforce airport zoning regulations.
Case Details:

Chanceford Aviation Properties, LLP (“Chanceford”) owns five acres of land in Chanceford Township upon which a public airport is located.  In 1984, the Commonwealth enacted the AZA, and every municipality with a public airport received notice of the requirements of the AZA.  In 1991 and 2002, Chanceford’s predecessors in interest notified the Township that it had an obligation to adopt an ordinance in compliance with the AZA.  The Township discussed this at several meetings, but never adopted an ordinance.

In 2003, the predecessors filed a mandamus action asking the trial court to order the Township to enact an ordinance.  The trial court granted the mandamus request after examining Section 5912 of the AZA, which provides that “every municipality having an airport hazard area within its territorial limits shall adopt . . . airport zoning regulations for such airport hazard area.”  The trial court found that the use of the word “shall” made the adoption of an ordinance mandatory.

Upon appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed and found that the AZA was discretionary or, in the alternative, that the Township’s Zoning Ordinance incorporated FAA guidelines sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the AZA. Chanceford appealed to the PA Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court found that the AZA’s purpose is to prevent the creation or establishment of airport hazards, and to interpret the AZA as discretionary would not serve this purpose. The Supreme Court also found that although FAA guidelines were incorporated into the Township’s Zoning Ordinance, the Zoning Ordinance did not adequately regulate airport hazard areas.

Finally, the Supreme Court found that mandamus was an appropriate action because Section 5912 requires municipalities with airport hazard areas to enact airport zoning regulations.  The Township knew about the AZA since 1984, had several requests from the previous landowners to enact an ordinance and discussed enacting the ordinance at several Township meetings, but failed to comply with its duty to enact the ordinance.

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