Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 2, 2020

PA Appeals Court Holds Driveway Condition Had No Relation to the Subject Lot Line Revision

This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.

Landowners Mary Ellen Joos, Eric Joos, and Amanda Joos appealed an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County that affirmed the condition that the Board of Supervisors of Charlestown Township imposed upon the landowners’ proposed lot line revision. The condition required Landowners to maintain the existing shared driveway in its current configuration and prohibited the construction of a second driveway.

On appeal, the landowners first contended that the Board of Supervisors ran afoul of the procedures set forth in Sections 503(9) and 508(2) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (“MPC”) for imposing conditions on a plan. The court found that the MPC did not require a municipality’s ordinance to contain the provisions set forth in Section 503 of the MPC; instead, Section 503(9) of the MPC simply stated that a municipality “may include” in its Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (“SALDO”) those procedures. Here, the Board of Supervisors granted the landowners an “approval of a preliminary plan subject to conditions.” Specifically, the Board of Supervisors approved the landowners’ Ppan with the driveway condition that the Landowners did not accept. The court held that the landowners’ sole remedy was to file a land use appeal, and they did so.

The landowners next alleged that Charlestown Township’s SALDO did not authorize the driveway condition. The trial court held that the driveway condition was based upon the design standards for driveways set forth in Section 22-506(5) of the SALDO. On review, the court found these driveway standards bore no relation to the landowners’ lot line revision. Regardless of this, the court noted that Section 22-506(5) was inapplicable because Parcel B was not a “corner lot.” Moreover, the record failed to support the driveway condition as “appropriate to effectuate compliance with relevant statutes and ordinances” or “reasonable in order to make the plan be in compliance.” As such, the court held that the Board of Supervisors exceeded its authority under the SALDO in imposing the driveway condition on the landowners’ plan to revise a lot line. The trial court’s order that affirmed the Board of Supervisors’ conditional grant of the Plan, was therefore reversed.

Lastly, the landowners claimed that the trial court erred in denying their petition for contempt filed against the Board of Supervisors. The record reflected that the Board of Supervisors delayed responding to the Writ of Certiorari for more than three years. In its answer to the petition for contempt, the Board of Supervisors denied that it “refused to return the record” or “made any representations … that it had refused or was refusing to return the record.” In their brief in support of contempt, the landowners attached an email exchange between the landowners’ counsel and the Township’s solicitor to show wrongful intent. The court found that while this email exchange concerned the parties’ attempt to resolve the driveway condition, it did not show the requisite mens rea with respect to the Board of Supervisors’ failure to return the record. Accordingly, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Landowners’ petition for contempt.

Joos v Board of Supervisors of Charlestown Township, 2020 WL 4372313 (PA Commwlth 7/31/2020)

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