Residents Against Matrix v. Lower Makefield Twp.
845 A.2d 908 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004)
Seeking to develop approximately 1.2 million square feet of commercial office space on a 186-acre parcel zoned “C-3 General Business/Industrial,” as required by ordinance, Landowner submitted a master land development plan to the board of supervisors. Following the review and approval of the master plan by the planning commission, the zoning hearing board and the board of supervisors, the township entered into a master plan approval agreement with the landowner. Eleven years later, Landowner entered into an agreement to sell the property.
Seeking to expand or make substitutions to the original list of approved uses, the interested purchaser submitted a proposed amendment of Phase I of the master plan to the board of supervisors. Without seeking the review and approval of the zoning hearing board, the supervisors approved the proposal and entered into an amended agreement that allowed for all uses consistent with not just a C-3 zone but also a C-2 zone (the functional equivalent of granting a variance). Arguing that the supervisors should have sought the review and approval of the zoning hearing board before approving an amendment to the master land development plan, residents of the township appealed. The trial court disagreed, however, and upheld the supervisors’ actions. Residents appealed.
Reversing the lower court, the Commonwealth Court held that supervisors err if they grant final approval of an amendment for Phase I of a master land development plan without first obtaining the zoning hearing board’s approval of the proposed uses contemplated in that amendment. In reaching this decision, the Commonwealth Court relied on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Graham that “zoning problems must be considered at the planning stage for the purpose of approving or disapproving” a land development plan.
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