Upper Southampton Twp. v. Upper Southampton Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd., 934 A.2d 1162 (Pa. 2007).

The construction of billboards does not fall within the “land development” definition of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC).
Case Details:

The Applicant sought to erect six billboards on commercial properties and entered into leases with the owners of the properties. The Applicant submitted applications for a sign permit and a building permit to the Township, but the Township Zoning Officer rejected the applications because the Applicant failed to submit a land development application.

On appeal, the trial court stressed the importance of the leases.  The definition of “land development” in the Township’s SALDO was nearly identical to that of the MPC.  According to the trial court, the construction of the billboards met the MPC and the SALDO’s definitions of “land development” because there was a “division or allocation of land or space” between two or more parties through the leases.  Applicant appealed to the Commonwealth Court which affirmed the trial court’s decision.

The Applicant appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court examined the plain language of the MPC.  It determined that the legislature intended for the “land development” definition to apply to large scale divisions or allocations of land.  The MPC addresses large-scale development plans and the potential issues that may arise from their construction.  Such development plans could impact various aspects of public life—i.e. water management, sewers, parking areas, roadways etc.  The Supreme Court concluded that none of those concerns are present when erecting billboards because there is only a minor use of the properties.  The Supreme Court concluded that the presence of a lease was not enough to meet the definition of land development.

The Supreme Court reasoned that the present case was analogous to Tu-Way and Marshall Township. In Tu-Way, the Applicant sought to expand a communications tower or erect two new ones, and to construct accessory buildings.  The Commonwealth Court held that proposal did not rise to the level of “land development” under the MPC’s definition, in large part, because the applicant was not seeking to develop residential or commercial buildings on its property.  Similarly, in Marshall Township, the applicant sought to replace a light pole on a parking lot with a larger light pole with an antenna and equipment cabinets.  The Commonwealth Court concluded that the construction of the lager light pole did not fall with the MPC’s definition of “land development” because there was no construction of residential or commercial buildings.  Relying on Tu-Way and Marshall Township, the Supreme Court held that the construction of a billboard is not “land development” under the MPC.

In 2012, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania applied Upper Southampton in Global Towers. In Global Towers, the applicant sought to build a communications tower on a property it had leased.  The District Court stated that the construction of the communications tower would not have an extensive impact on sewer, traffic, roads, etc. and, therefore, it did not fall within the category of “land development” under the MPC.

Date of Decision: 11/20/07

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