T.H. Properties, L.P. v. Upper Salford Township Board of Supervisors, No. 69 C.D. 2008, 2009 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 178 (Pa. Commw. February 11, 2009).
When a municipality resolves a land use appeal by Court-approved settlement agreement, prior to newly elected Supervisors taking office, the new Board is bound by the settlement agreement unless there were prior objections by a party to the land use appeal and/or there is a showing of extraordinary circumstances.
A Developer filed an application for a conditional use to develop a 312 acre parcel into 185 single family homes and a golf course. After extensive hearings, the Board of Supervisors denied the application, and the Developer appealed. While the appeal was pending, the Township authorized a Supervisor and the Solicitor to discuss settlement. Settlement negotiations continued for two years. In November, 2007, the parties reached a settlement agreement approved by the Trial Court in December, 2007. Prior to having reached a settlement agreement, however, one of the supervisors was defeated in the November, 2007 election. After the new Supervisor took office in January, 2008, the Board attempted to rescind the settlement agreement, arguing that the new Board was not bound by decisions rendered by the prior Board. The Trial Court rejected this assertion and upheld the settlement agreement, and the Township appealed.
In reviewing the matter, the Commonwealth Court noted that the settlement agreement was detailed and extensive, including many exhibits, a stipulated plan, general lot designs, conditional use approvals and waivers under the applicable Ordinance. The Court acknowledged that, as argued by the Township, there are several Pennsylvania decisions holding that a newly-elected governing body should be able to act in the public’s best interest without being held to agreements and policies of its predecessors. The Developer sought to distinguish these cases, noting that these cases involved long-term contracts, not a court-approved settlement. Developer also noted that the new supervisor’s attempts to have the Board invalidate the prior settlement was improper where, despite full knowledge of the Land Use Appeal, the new Supervisor did not intervene in the prior litigation.
The Court agreed with the Developer, noting that settlement negotiations lasted for two years and neither the new Supervisor, nor any other resident, sought to intervene in the land use appeal to prevent settlement. It characterized the new Board’s action as an attempt to collaterally attack a settlement which the Court will not permit absent extraordinary circumstances. The Court held that any party objecting to settlement should have intervened in the underlying action before the Court entered the Order approving the settlement agreement and, absent such timely intervention, no collateral attack will be permitted particularly where, as here, there was no showing of any extraordinary circumstances. It concluded that absent intervention, the time for raising objections to the settlement had expired and upheld the Trial Court’s decision approving the Agreement.
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