Davis-Haas v. Exeter Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 166 A.3d 527 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2017)

Where a procedural validity challenge is filed within 30 days of an ordinance’s effective date, the challenger need only prove the municipality failed to strictly comply with the required procedures set forth in the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC). Also, a challenger does not lose standing for a procedural validity challenge where the challenger sells a portion of the relevant property but maintains an ownership interest in the property during the proceedings.
Case Details:

Landowner owned a 46.64-acre property (Property) upon which it intended to develop a residential development consisting of 30 homes. Prior to submitting a plan, the Property was rezoned, which effectively reduced the number of permitted lots to seven. Landowner challenged the validity of the new ordinance within 30 days of its enactment and alleged the existence of procedural irregularities under Section 10909.1(a)(2) of the MPC. Approximately a month later, Landowner submitted a preliminary subdivision plan for the development which included 26 lots within the municipality. Later that month, Landowner and the Township entered into a settlement agreement under which Landowner would withdraw its procedural challenge and the Township would review the plan under the terms of the old ordinance. The Township approved the plan nearly three years later. Sometime after filing the challenge, Landowner sold a 0.51-acre parcel from the Property. The sold parcel took the Property’s old address but the tax map was never changed.

Objectors owned land adjacent to the Property and filed a land use appeal to which Landowner intervened. Objectors claimed Landowner’s challenge was deficient and later that Landowner did not have standing. Objectors argued the procedural process followed for Landowner’s challenge was defective and violated Objectors’ due process rights. The Court disagreed and determined that Landowner’s appeal was filed within 30 days of the new ordinance’s enactment.  Therefore, Landowner must only prove the Township did not strictly comply with the procedural requirements.  The Township failed to comply for eleven different reasons, so Objectors’ claim failed. In addition, Objector had notice and took part in the proceedings. Further, Objector was the cause for delay of many of the proceedings and other appeals to the Court related to this matter. Therefore, the Court explained it was “disingenuous” for Objector to claim it had no notice of Landowner’s challenge.

The Court also denied Objector’s claim that Landowner did not have standing. The Court denied the claim because Landowner owned the Property when it filed the challenge.  Except for the small portion sold, Landowner retained ownership of the rest of the Property throughout the proceedings. The MPC permits “landowners” to file procedural validity challenges. “Landowner” is defined by the MPC as “the legal or beneficial owner . . . of land . . . or other person having a proprietary interest in land.” Thus, it was inconsequential that the entirety of the Property did not remain intact throughout the proceedings.

Date of Decision: 7/12/17

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