BR Assocs. v. Bd. of Comm’rs of Twp. of Upper St. Clair, 136 A.3d 548 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016)

Zoning boards are inappropriate venues to resolve issues of title. A board should not deny a plan because outside approvals are pending; rather, it should approve the plan subject to approval by outside state agencies.
Case Details:

In 2012, Applicants sought and obtained approval to build a restaurant with off-street parking and stormwater management controls conditioned on obtaining a highway occupancy permit (HOP) from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. In 2014, Applicants amended the plan because they could not secure the HOP and re-submitted their engineer’s stormwater management study. The Board of Commissioners (BOC) held a hearing concerning the amended plan. At the hearing, counsel for Objector argued Applicants’ stormwater management study had errors in its calculations and should include a floodplain analysis. The hearing was continued because Applicants made changes to the stormwater management plan in response to Objector’s concerns. Applicants also submitted correspondence and calculations from a second engineer to supplement the changes made to the stormwater management plan. After the second hearing, Objector still argued the plan should not be approved because Applicants did not have permission to install a pipe related to the stormwater management plan across a street that was on Objector’s property. The BOC ultimately found it had no authority to address issues of title and, therefore, granted the application subject to review and approval of the stormwater management plan by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Objector appealed to the trial court which agreed with the BOC’s decision.

On appeal to the Commonwealth Court, Objector raised arguments concerning the stormwater management system’s compliance with the Township Code and state and federal floodplain management requirements. The Court upheld the trial court’s decision first finding the Applicants’ engineers submitted enough evidence to prove the stormwater management plan complied with the requirements of the Township’s Code. In addition, Objector’s argument concerning Applicants’ lack of compliance with the federal and state floodplain requirements was defeated based on prior case law standing for the proposition that a municipality should not deny land development applications for failure to comply with laws overseen by other governmental agencies.  Since the BOC approved Applicants’ plan subject to DEP’s review and approval of their stormwater management plan, Objector’s dispute could not serve as a basis for attacking the plan approval.

Objector had also argued the BOC should have considered Applicant’s failure to demonstrate any legal easement or other right to use Objector’s land for part of the stormwater management facilities. The Court discussed the long line of cases that hold a zoning board is an inappropriate venue to resolve issues of title, and then decided the instant dispute against Objector for the same reason.

Date of Decision: 5/5/16

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