Department of General Services v. Board of Supervisors of Cumberland Township, Adams County, Commonwealth Court, 795 A.2d 440 (January 28, 2002)

Commonwealth Agencies Not Exempt from Zoning and Land Use Regulations Unless Specificly Made Exempt by Statute.
Case Details:

Note: Appeal Denied

Cross reference-MPC Section 508(4)

In this case the Department of General Services of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (DGS) appealed an order of the trial court that affirmed the decision of the Cumberland Township Board of Supervisors that denied DGS’ request for approval of its preliminary land development plan to construct a Welcome Center for Adams County.

DGS purchased two tracts of land located in an agricultural residential district for the Department of Transportation as a site for the Welcome Center. DGS was granted a subdivision of the properties into two parcels. At the time the land was subdivided the zoning ordinance allowed “Federal, State and Local municipal building and uses in the AR district.

The township subsequently advertised a proposed amendment to zoning ordinance restricting the uses in AR districts to agricultural buildings and uses. DGS thereafter filed a preliminary land development plan to construct the Welcome Center. The township denied the plan based upon a finding that the use would not be permitted under the amended ordinance.

DGS appealed to the trial court contending that it was exempt from land use zoning regulations and that the zoning amendment is not effective under the pending ordinance doctrine. The trial court affirmed the township’s decision.

DGS repeated its issues on appeal to the Commonwealth Court. The Court held that absent a clear statute to the contrary, agencies of the Commonwealth are not exempt from zoning and land use regulations. The Court noted that the General Assembly could but had not enacted legislation empowering Commonwealth agencies to supersede local land use regulations. The Court also held that the pending ordinance doctrine was correctly applied to deny a land development plan which proposed a use not permitted under the pending ordinance. An applicant may not “piggyback” its land development plan onto the prior approval of a subdivision plan in an effort to beat the triggering date under the pending ordinance doctrine. Section 508(4) of the MPC, which protects a pending subdivision plan from changes in the subdivision and land development ordinance, did not extend to protect the proposed Land Development Plan from “pending” changes in the zoning ordinance.

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