Friends of Lackawanna v. Dunmore Borough Zoning Hearing Bd., 2018 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 157 (May 7, 2018)

A property owner has standing to object to a land use decision if he or she has a substantial, direct and immediate interest in the decision. An association has standing, “even in the absence of injury to itself, if the association alleges that at least one of its members is suffering immediate or threatened injury as a result of the action challenged.” In addition, a notice of land use appeal should not be dismissed for not being concise, pursuant to Section 1003-A(a) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, where its factual background section is voluminous but it still clearly and concisely sets forth the grounds on which the appeal is based.
Case Details:

Landowner owns and operates a 714-acre sanitary landfill.  Landowner obtained a preliminary opinion from the Zoning Officer that the Zoning Ordinance’s height limitations did not apply to the landfill because it was not a structure.  Residents and a related association (together, “Objectors”) appealed the preliminary opinion and the Zoning Hearing Board (“ZHB”) found Objectors lacked standing.  The trial court upheld the ZHB’s decision but the Commonwealth Court reversed.

Three individual objectors testified that that they live approximately a quarter-mile to a half-mile from the landfill and approximately three-fifths to four-fifths of a mile from the expansion site.  Their homes are separated from the landfill by an interstate highway.  They can smell a “pungent odor coming” and must deal with dust and seagull droppings allegedly associated with the landfill.  In addition, trash trucks pass through their development on the way to the landfill.  However, it was unclear whether the trucks might be going to another waste management facility (unrelated to Landowner) which was closer than Landowner’s property and whether it might be that facility creating the “pungent odor.”  The association’s members lived in the same development and its membership included some of the objecting residents.  The association’s sole purpose was to stop Landowner from expanding.

The Commonwealth Court determined that the Objectors did not live too far from the landfill to preclude standing.  Further, “the Board and the trial court acknowledged [Objectors’] complaints regarding pungent odors of rotting garbage, dust, bird droppings, and truck traffic directly affecting their properties.”  As a result, the Court determined the individual objectors had standing because those “harms have discernable adverse effects on [the individual objectors] and their families raising legitimate concerns about air quality and health.”  Therefore, the individual objectors “have a substantial, direct and immediate interest in the Zoning Officer’s opinion approving the landfill’s proposed expansion, which would extend the operation of the landfill for another 46 years.”  Associations have standing in Pennsylvania “as a representative of its members, even in the absence of injury to itself, if the association alleges that at least one of its members is suffering immediate or threatened injury as a result of the action challenged.”  For that reason, the association in this case had standing because the individual objectors were part of its membership.

Objectors filed a 53-page, 377-paragraph notice of land use appeal.  Landowner argued it should be dismissed for noncompliance with Section 1003-A(a) of the MPC, 53 P.S. 11003-A(a), because it did not “concisely set[ ]forth the ground on which the appellant relies.”  Landowner argued the appeal “deliberately violate[d] Section 11003-A(a)” in an attempt to confuse the trial court.  The Court determined, however, that while the factual background was very long, the “Grounds for Appeal” section “clearly and concisely set[ ] forth the 10 grounds on which their appeal [was] based.”  The Court dismissed Landowner’s claim.

Date of Decision: 5/7/18

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