Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 26, 2007

PA Commonwealth Court Upholds Township Approval of College Dorm Plan as a Planned Residential Development

After the trial court upheld the approval of a an application for a Planned Residential Development (PRD) to provide 19 residential buildings, a clubhouse, outdoor common areas, and a small maintenance building on land that abuts Slippery Rock University (SRU) for purposes of providing 224 dwelling units to be used to house SRU students, neighbors appealed arguing that PRDs are conditional uses and that the project fails to satisfy all of the requirements in the ordinance.  

In first explaining PRDs, the court noted that it is “a larger, integrated planned residential development which does not meet standards of the usual zoning districts…” and that “The idea behind PRD zoning is to create a method of approving large developments which overrides traditional zoning controls and permits the introduction of flexibility into the design of larger developments.”  Citing to Kang v. Supervisors of Township of Spring, 776 A.2d 324 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001).  The state Municipal Planning Code defines PRD as: “an area of land, controlled by a landowner, to be developed as a single entity for a number of dwelling units, or combination of residential and nonresidential uses, the development plan for which does not correspond in lot size, bulk, type of dwelling, or use, density, or intensity, lot coverage and required open space to the regulations established in any one district created, from time to time, under the provisions of a municipal zoning ordinance.”   See, 53 P.S. §10107.  The Township’s zoning ordinance authorizing PRDs is consistent with the statutory framework. 

Turning to the appellants’ arguments, the Court determined that minimum frontage and buffer requirements in the zoning ordinance are not applicable to PRDs, finding that the more specific language from the PRD section of the Ordinance would apply over the more general provisions in the table provided in the ordinance that charts dimensional requirements for lot size and coverage. The Court also rejected the appellants’ next argument that the Ordinance requires PRDs to contain a mixture of housing types and that the proposed quadrangle does not satisfy the criteria because it does not contain single family houses.  The Court notes that neither the MPC nor the local zoning ordinance requires single family housing be a part of a PRD.  

The appellants next argued that the proposal would exceed the maximum 8 units per acre density mandated by the Comprehensive Plan. In dismissing this allegation, the Court notes that the developer did apply for, and was granted, a modification from the density requirements, and that to the extent that the appellants rely on the comprehensive plan requirements over the zoning ordinance requirements, their argument fails. The Court reiterated that “[a] comprehensive plan is not forever binding, nor does it actually regulate land use…a comprehensive plan is abstract and recommendatory; whereas the zoning ordinance is specific and regulatory.” Citing to Morelli v. Borough of St. Mary’s, 1 Pa. Cmwlth, 612, 275 A.2d 889 (1971).  

As to appellants’ final argument that the zoning ordinance requires density to decrease from the interior of the PRD to the exterior, the Court notes that the zoning ordinance provides merely that the density of residential units “shall generally decrease” from the interior. Although it is true that the density does not decrease in this proposal, the Court noted the flexibility that is the hallmark of  PRDs, and that the language of the zoning ordinance is not mandatory, but rather suggestive by use of the word “generally.”  The Court also concluded that, “The Quadrangle effectively operates as a privately owned buffer between SRU and the community.  By its design, the Quadrangle transitions SRU’s use to the various surrounding uses of the community.” Finally, in upholding the trial court’s assessment that the local officials appropriately applied the law and that the Developer met his burden of satisfying the PRD requirement, the court noted that the Township Supervisors articulated how the proposed PRD conformed to both the Comprehensive Plan and the PRD requirements of the zoning ordinance.  

Ligo v  Slippery Rock township, 2007 WL 4192016 (Pa. Cmwlth. 11/29/2007) . 

The opinion can also be accessed at: www.courts.state.pa.us/OpPosting/CWealth/out/2216CD06_11-29-07.pdf  

This case is also discussed by Professor Paul Boudreaux on the Land Use Prof Blog at: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/land_use/2007/12/the-invasion-of.html  


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