Embreeville Redevelopment, L.P. v. Bd. of Supervisors of W. Bradford Twp., 134 A.3d 1122 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016)
Zoning map changes are ordinances that enact changes so comprehensive that there results “a substantial change to the manner in which the tract of land is zoned in comparison to the surrounding tracts of land that were similarly zoned.” To determine if an ordinance is a zoning map change, courts look to the overall effect of the changes, not the number of proposed changes.
Developer bought a property (Property) that was located in a district zoned Industrial/Mixed Use. Developer sought to redevelop the Property for residential use, which was not permitted by right or conditional use. Due to the nature of the proposed use, Developer met with the Township before and after acquiring the Property to discuss the plans for redevelopment. In 2013, the Township was made aware it was not meeting its fair share housing obligations. Thereafter, the Township’s Board of Supervisors (Board) declared the Township’s Code of Ordinances (Code) was substantially invalid in its failure to provide adequate land area within the Township for developing multi-family dwellings. A new ordinance was drafted and presented as a curative amendment which would add medium and high density residential uses to the Township’s Industrial District. Developer urged the Township not to adopt the ordinance but to develop an amendment that would allow medium and high density residential development in the area where the Property at issue is located. The Township later published a notice that the new ordinance would be considered at an upcoming public meeting. At that meeting, the Board adopted the ordinance. Developer appealed to the trial court and was denied relief. Developer then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing the new ordinance was not a curative amendment, but a zoning map change, which required the Township to follow more procedural steps to ensure its validity.
The Commonwealth Court agreed with Developer’s assertions and reversed the decision of the trial court. Under Section 609(b) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), municipalities must vote on amendments to zoning ordinances after giving public notice. If the amendment involves a zoning map change, notice of the public hearing must be mailed to all affected property owners, along with the public notice being conspicuously posted. The MPC has not defined “curative amendment” or “zoning map change” but the question has been answered by the courts. Earlier decisions have stated zoning map changes are ordinances that enact changes that are so comprehensive there results “a substantial change to the manner in which the tract of land is zoned in comparison to the surrounding tracts of land that were similarly zoned.” Determinations of this nature must be based on the overall effect of the changes, not the number of proposed changes. The new ordinance added a new land use category, which was arguably an incompatible use, in the Township’s Industrial District. This had an effect on the entire nature of the Industrial District and, therefore, represented comprehensive rezoning amounting to a zoning map change. The Township would have needed to follow the procedural rules for implementing zoning map changes in order for the new ordinance to be deemed valid.
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