Posted by: Patricia Salkin | November 9, 2019

PA Commwlth Court Holds Statute Governing Time for Appeals from and Remedies for Procedural Defects in Land Use Decisions Did Not Apply to Zoning Ordinance

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

In this case, James Yannaccone appealed from the Northumberland County Common Pleas Court’s order declaring the Lewis Township Board of Supervisors’ Ordinance No. 2014-7 valid and in full force and effect. Yannaccone also alleged that newly created planning committee was not a valid planning agency under Municipalities Planning Code (MPC). The Board objected to complaint on grounds including standing, and the trial court sustained the objection. After Yannaccone filed an amended complaint asserting he owned land within township, the trial court denied his motion for summary judgment and found the Board complied with the procedural requirements for enacting ordinance. Following trial, the Court of Common Pleas, entered judgment in favor of Board and denied property owner’s motion for reconsideration.

Since 2005, the Township and Turbotville Borough participated as a joint planning commission for zoning and land use planning, as the Township did not have a separate planning commission. In an October 7, 2013 letter, the Board notified Turbotville that it would withdraw from the Joint Commission effective January 1, 2015. The Board then hired consultant KPI Engineering to draft a new zoning ordinance exclusively for the Township, and formed the Township’s Zoning Ordinance Committee (ZOC), which consisted of Board members, Joint Commission members and Township residents. The purpose of the ZOC was to provide KPI input during the proposed ordinance drafting process. The ZOC met several times in early-to mid-2014 to review KPI’s proposed ordinance, which KPI eventually presented to the Board. The Board sent copies of the proposed ordinance to the Joint Commission and the Northumberland County Planning Commission, both of which provided comments to the Board.

On appeal, Yannaccone first contended that the trial court erred by recognizing ZOC as a valid planning agency. As it applies to this claim, Section 607 of the MPC and Section 209.1(b)(2) of the MPC10 expressly authorized a municipality’s governing body to request its planning agency to prepare and present a zoning ordinance. Additionally, Section 107 of the MPC defines “planning agency” to include “a planning commission, planning department, or a planning committee of the governing body.” Here, the Board established that ZOC was discussed in 2013, created in late 2013 or early 2014, and its progress was reported for most of 2014. Section 201 of the MPC also required that a planning committee be “comprised of” Board members. Contrary to Yannaccone’s argument, Section 201 of the MPC did not require ZOC to consist solely of Board members, but only that ZOC had to include Board members, which it did. Accordingly, Yannaccone’s claim that ZOC was not valid because its membership exceeded nine members and included non-Board members was without merit. Therefore, the court held that the trial court properly determined that the ZOC was a valid planning agency.

Yannaccone next claimed that the trial court erred by holding that the Board’s monthly meetings strictly complied with the requirement in Section 607(b) of the MPC. Under that section, “the planning agency shall hold at least one public meeting pursuant to public notice ….” The record reflected that ZOC meetings were public, but were neither published in a newspaper of general circulation nor posted as Section 703 of the Sunshine Act mandated. The court further found that merely referencing a ZOC meeting during one Board session and notating the Board’s minutes with ZOC updates did not rise to the level of the required public notice. Since none of ZOC’s meetings took place after “public notice,” the Board did not substantially comply with Section 607(b) of the MPC, and the trial court was found to have erred by holding otherwise.

 Yannaccone v. Lewis Township Board of Supervisors, 216 A.3d 551 (2019)

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