First Ave. Partners v. City of Pittsburgh Planning Comm’n, 151 A.3d 715 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016)

Zoning decisions are not final until a written decision is issued. Therefore, the 30-day appeal limitation period does not run until a written decision is issued.
Case Details:

In 2009, Applicant sought approval (2009 Application) to build a hotel on property in the City City. The City’s Zoning Code (Zoning Code) does not require a public hearing or notice for consideration of project development plans. Nonetheless, the City’s Planning Commission (Planning Commission) held a public hearing on the 2009 Application and Objectors were permitted to voice their opposition. The Planning Commission approved the 2009 Application in 2011 without a written decision (2011 Decision).

Later, the Planning Commission asked Applicant to make design changes to the plan included as part of the 2009 Application. Applicant submitted a new project development plan in 2013 (2013 Application) which Applicant couched as a “revision and improvement to the 2009 Application.” The Planning Commission approved the 2013 Application in 2014, again without a written decision (2014 Decision). Objectors appealed the 2014 Decision to the trial court. The trial court reversed and remanded the matter for various reasons. Applicant then withdrew its 2013 Application and sought to have a zoning voucher issued for the 2009 Application based on the 2011 Decision. In 2015, the Planning Department approved Applicant’s 2009 Application and issued a zoning voucher. A few weeks later, the City notified Objectors of the zoning voucher and Objectors appealed.  On appeal, Objectors were denied relief by the trial court because they failed to appeal the 2011 Decision within the 30-day window as it was now 2015. Objectors appealed to the Commonwealth Court to determine whether the oral 2011 Decision triggered the 30-day appeal period.

The Commonwealth Court reversed the decision of the trial court, holding that zoning decisions are not final until a written decision is issued. The Court first noted the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) applied to the matter because, although the City is not governed by the MPC, the parties agreed the relevant and applicable laws are similar to those provided by the MPC. As a result, cases decided under the MPC are applicable. The Court relied on Narberth Borough v. Lower Merion Township, which held zoning decisions are not final until a written decision is issued.  In accordance with that case, the Court determined the City’s 30-day appeal period in the Zoning Code was not triggered by the oral 2011 Decision and Objectors’ appeal was, therefore, timely.

Date of Decision: 12/9/16

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