Naylor v. Township of Hellam, 565 Pa 397, 773 A.2d 770 Pa Supreme Court (June 20, 2001)

The power to enact a zoning ordinance, for whatever purpose, does not necessarily include the power to suspend a valid zoning ordinance to the prejudice of a land owner.
Case Details:

Note: Declined to follow: City of Lancaster v. Fire Fighters Local Union 319, 834 A.2d 676

Cross Reference – MPC Sections 301, 302, 501, 503, 601, 603, 609

The township issued a one year moratorium on new residential subdivision and land development while the township completed the process of revising its comprehensive plan with the intent to prevent development inconsistent with the proposed revisions. The property owners submitted their preliminary subdivision plans two weeks before the revised plan was effective. The plans were rejected by the zoning officer because they were compliant only with the “suspended” ordinances.

The Supreme Court first noted the fundamental principle that municipalities are creatures of the state and the authority of the legislature over their powers is supreme. Municipal corporations have no inherent powers and may do only those things the legislature has expressly or by necessary implication placed within their power to do. Although a municipal corporation can function through powers incidental to those expressly granted,, beyond such grant of authority, a municipality possesses no power by implication

Although acknowledging that zoning enabling legislation as opposed to zoning ordinances must be liberally construed, the Court examined MPC Sections 105, 301, 302, 501, 601 & 603 and found no express legislative grant of authority to suspend, temporary or otherwise the land development review process to meet their planning objectives. In contrast, the court noted that MPC Section 609.2 provides an express grant of authority for a municipality to invalidate zoning ordinance for a period not to exceed 180 days while it enacts a curative amendment. Had the legislature wish to authorize the enactment of a “temporary” or “interim” ordinance to maintain the status quo pending changes to a subdivision and land development ordinance it could have done so by legislation.

The court noted that “the power to suspend land development has historically been viewed in this Commonwealth as a power distinct from and not incidental to any power to regulate land development.

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