Weiser v. Latimore Township, 960 A.2d 924 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008)

An applicant is entitled to approval of their final subdivision plan if their preliminary plan was approved as long as the final plan is substantially the same as the preliminary plan.
Case Details:

Weiser submitted two preliminary subdivision plans.  The Township Planning Commission recommended that the plans be denied because they presented zoning problems.  The land that was to be subdivided according to the plans was placed entirely within the Agricultural Conservation district pursuant to a new ordinance enacted by the Township.  The Supervisors denied the plans, but never issued a written decision.  Therefore, Weiser was entitled to a deemed approval of the preliminary subdivision plans because under the MPC, the governing body must render a written decision within the prescribed time period set forth in the MPC.

Subsequently, Weiser submitted two final subdivision plans, each essentially the same as the preliminary plans.  On the preliminary and final subdivision plans, Weiser listed several intended uses including many permitted uses and many uses permitted by special exception in the Commercial Industrial District.  The County Office of Planning and Development placed comments on the plans and expressed concern that the proposed lots would not be able to be used in the ways listed on the plans because the lots would now be located in the Agricultural Conservation District. The Township Supervisors held a meeting and asked Weiser how he proposed to use the lots, and Weiser replied that he would use them in accordance with the uses stated on the plans.  Ultimately, the plans were denied because Weiser refused to accept certain conditions which were placed on the plans including removing the list of intended uses.

Weiser appealed to the trial court, which found that the Supervisors were required to accept the final plans because they were substantially the same as the previously deemed approved preliminary plans. Further, the trial court found that the Supervisors should not have mixed zoning issues into the subdivision process.  The Township appealed arguing that the zoning issues were a proper basis for denial and that there were certain latent defects in the plans, such as imprecise boundaries, that warranted the denial.  The Commonwealth Court found that if an applicant’s preliminary plan is approved, then they are entitled to final approval if the final plan is substantially the same as the preliminary plan.

The Commonwealth Court also held that whether or not zoning approvals must be obtained with a land development application is governed by the relevant Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (the “SALDO”).  Here, the SALDO did not require that an applicant receive zoning approval prior to a final plan approval.  Therefore, the Commonwealth Court held that because the preliminary plans were approved, the final plans must also be approved regardless of any zoning issues.

Finally, the Commonwealth Court addressed the Township’s argument that the plans were properly denied due to latent defects such as boundary disputes.  The Commonwealth Court found that there was uncertainty about the boundaries of the lots in the preliminary plans and the Supervisors did not mention this problem; therefore, the Supervisors did not preserve the issue because they did not mention it in their conditional approval.

Date of Decision: 11/21/08

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