Narberth Borough v. Lower Merion Township,
915 A.2d 626 (Pa. 2007).
A thirty-day appeal period for land use decisions runs from the mailing of a municipality’s written decision, not from a verbal announcement of the decision.
A developer sought approval from Lower Merion Township for a land development that abutted a border with Narberth Borough. The Township provisionally approved the first phase of the project in an open hearing attended by the Borough, and eight days later, the Township mailed its decision to both the developer and the Borough. Shortly thereafter, the Borough filed an appeal to the Township’s provisional approval, more than thirty days after the Township’s public announcement, but fewer than thirty days after the written decision. The developer moved to dismiss the Borough’s appeal as untimely, since the appeal was not filed within thirty days of the verbal announcement; however, the trial court denied the motion. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed. The Borough appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
According to Pennsylvania statute 53 P.S. § 11002-A, all appeals from all land use decisions shall be filed within 30 days after entry of the decision, as provided in 42 Pa.C.S. § 5572. Under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5572, the date of “entry of the decision” is the date of service of an order of a government unit, which shall be the date of mailing if service is by mail. Furthermore, 53 P.S. § 10508(1) states that the decision of the governing body shall be in writing, and shall be communicated to the applicant personally or mailed to him.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that the Borough’s appeal challenging the Township’s provisional approval of the first step of the development plan was timely, and the Commonwealth Court erred in ruling otherwise. The Court rejected the developer’s main argument in favor of the appeal period running from the verbal announcement, in which the developer claimed the date of mailing is not easily determined by an objector, such as Narberth Borough, as it is only the applicant that typically receives notice of municipal decisions. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court concluded that oral approval does not constitute “entry” of a decision, and that when statutes are free of ambiguity, one should not disregard the plain language of the law under the pretext of pursuing the spirit of the law.
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