Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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In 2012, Scott Township in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania enacted an ordinance that authorizes officials to enter upon any property within the Township to determine the existence and location of any cemetery. The ordinance compels property owners to hold their private cemeteries open to the public during daylight hours. Knick challenged the ordinance as authorizing unrestrained searches of private property in violation of the Fourth Amendment and as taking private property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. While the “ordinance is extraordinary and constitutionally suspect,” important justiciability considerations preclude reaching the merits. Because Knick conceded that her Fourth Amendment rights were not violated and failed to demonstrate that they imminently will be, Knick lacks standing to advance her Fourth Amendment challenge. Knick’s Fifth Amendment claims are not ripe until she has sought and been denied just compensation using Pennsylvania’s inverse condemnation procedures, as required by Supreme Court precedent. View "Knick v. Township of Scott" on Justia Law

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The Township of Tredyffrin Zoning Hearing Board of Appeals denied an application by DePolo, a federally licensed amateur or “ham” radio enthusiast, to build a 180-foot radio antenna tower on his property so that he could communicate with other ham radio operators around the world. The property is surrounded by mountains or hills. He claimed a shorter tower would not allow him to reliably communicate with other ham radio operators. The ZHBA agreed to a tower that was 65-feet tall as a reasonable accommodation under the applicable zoning ordinance prohibition on buildings taller than 35 feet. DePolo did not appeal that decision to the Chester Court of Common Pleas as allowed under state law, but filed a federal suit, claiming that zoning ordinance was preempted by 47 C.F.R. 97.15(b), and the closely related FCC declaratory ruling, known as PRB-1. The district court dismissed, finding that the ZHBA had offered a reasonable accommodation and that the zoning ordinance was not preempted by PRB-1. The Third Circuit rejected an appeal. DePolo’s failure to appeal the ZHBA’s determination to state court rendered the decision final, entitled to the same preclusive effect that it would have had in state court. View "Depolo v. Tredyffrin Twp. Bd. of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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Columbia, an interstate natural gas company subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), seeks to replace a portion of a natural gas pipeline that runs in and around York County, Pennsylvania. Because the original location of the pipeline has become heavily populated, the replacement will not track the original line but will be outside the existing right of way. To obtain easements necessary to complete construction of the replacement, in 2013, Columbia filed Complaints in Condemnation against four Landowners in federal court. The district court held that Columbia did not have the right of eminent domain required to condemn the easements, reasoning that 18 C.F.R. 157.202(b)(2)(i), was ambiguous. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the regulation clearly anticipates replacement outside the existing right of way and contains no adjacency requirement. The district court erroneously adopted its own definition of “replace” and concluded that a “notice” of “proposed rulemaking” for “Emergency Reconstruction of Interstate Natural Gas Facilities” promulgated by FERC after 9/11 was relevant. View "Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC v. 1.01 Acres in Penn Twp" on Justia Law

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Ownership of the Somerville property has changed many times. It has been used for manufacturing, for machining military parts during World War II, and as warehouses for commercial and industrial tenants, including JANR. The soil and the groundwater became contaminated, likely beginning in the 1940s, when a degreasing agent was dumped on the ground. Contamination worsened after 1983 when improper storage of hazardous waste in the JANR warehouse resulted in spills and leaks. Remedial actions may have contributed to the contamination. The current owner acquired the site in the 1980s. After several earlier suits concerning the contamination, the owner sued a former owner and the United States under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601, the New Jersey Spill Compensation and Control Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6972, and the New Jersey Sanitary Landfill Facility Closure Act and Contingency Fund. The district court entered summary judgment rejecting the RCRA claim, held a trial, and determined that the owner, the prior owners, and the United States were each liable for costs of remediation under CERCLA and the Spill Act and allocated percentages. The Third Circuit vacated with respect to award of prejudgment interest and the RCRA claim against the former owners, but otherwise affirmed. View "Litgo NJ, Inc. v. Comm'r NJ Dep't Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law

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The mall is bounded by a railroad track and drainage ditches owned by CSX. Houses beyond the track are higher than the track, which is higher than the mall. CSX’s predecessor installed a berm, straddling the property line, to prevent storm water from flowing onto the mall property. In 2010 storm water breached the berm. Runoff and debris from CSX’s property flowed down the slope and overwhelmed a private storm water inlet in the mall parking lot. CSX assured mall representatives that it planned a ditch to resolve the problem, but, instead, began constructing a spillway on the mall side of the berm to direct storm water into the mall’s drainage inlet. The mall manager discovered and immediately halted the work. The mall claimed negligence and continuing trespass. During discovery, the mall learned that CSX had refurbished the relevant portion of the track and argued that the modifications led to the discharge onto its property and that the discharge was evidence that CSX had violated, 49 C.F.R. 213.33, enacted under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The district court granted CSX summary judgment, holding that the claims were blocked by the FRSA preemption provision. The Third Circuit vacated, noting the “constrained scope” of FRSA preemption. View "MD Mall Assocs. v. CSX Transp., Inc" on Justia Law

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Interstate requested approval for nine outdoor advertising signs along U.S. Interstate-295, a major transportation corridor. The township then adopted an ordinance prohibiting billboards. The district court dismissed a constitutional challenge. The Third Circuit affirmed. A reasonable fact-finder could not conclude that there was an insufficient basis for the township’s conclusion that its billboard ban would directly advance its stated goal of improving the aesthetics of the community. The fact that Interstate will not be able to reach the distinct audience of travelers that it desires to target does not mean that adequate alternative means of communication do not exist. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that complete billboard bans may be the only reasonable means by which a legislature can advance its interests in traffic safety and aesthetics. View "Interstate Outdoor Advertising, L.P. v. Zoning Bd., Twp of Mount Laurel" on Justia Law

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First Korean Church alleged that the township violated its First Amendment right to religious freedom, its Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection, and its rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 by preventing First Korean from using its property as a church and seminary. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the township. The Third Circuit affirmed. View "First Korean Church of NY, Inc. v. Cheltenham Twp. Zoning Hearing Bd." on Justia Law

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In 1987, Waterfront purchased 5.3 acres in Philadelphia’s Central Riverfront District, zoned G-2 industrial. In exchange for rezoning to C-4 commercial, for a mixed-use, high-rise project, Waterfront agreed to restrictive covenants. When financing became possible in 2005, Waterfront obtained a permit for demolishing existing structures and constructing a 28-story apartment tower and entered into a financing agreement with a construction start date of February 2006. Waterfront had to postpone construction. In March 2006, the city extended to the site a zoning overlay with a height restriction of 65 feet and a width restriction of 70 feet. Waterfront alleged mistake; that the area councilman admitted that inclusion of the site was a mistake; and that Mayor Street stated that he would not have signed it had he known that the height restriction applied to the site. Waterfront unsuccessfully sought repeal, but never applied for a permit under the ordinance and did not seek a variance. Waterfront filed suit. In 2010 the city rescinded application of the height restriction. The district court held that the rescission mooted federal constitutional claims, denied Waterfront’s motion to amend to attack the width restriction, and granted the city summary judgment on all other claims. The Third Circuit affirmed. View "CMR D.N. Corp. v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, a state agency which owned a leasehold interest in the East Hall, also known as “Historic Boardwalk Hall”, on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, was tasked with restoring it. After learning of the market for federal historic rehabilitation tax credits (HRTCs) among corporate investors, and of the additional revenue which that market could bring to the state through a syndicated partnership with one or more investors, NJSEA created Historic Boardwalk Hall, LLC (HBH) and sold a membership interest to a subsidiary of Pitney Bowes. Transactions admitting PB as a member of HBH and transferring ownership of East Hall to HBH were designed so that PB could earn the HRTCs generated from the East Hall rehabilitation. The IRS determined that HBH was simply a vehicle to impermissibly transfer HRTCs from NJSEA to PB and that all HRTCs taken by PB should be reallocated to NJSEA. The Tax Court disagreed. The Third Circuit reversed. PB, in substance, was not a bona fide partner in HBH. View "Historic Boardwalk Hall, LLC v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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The ordinance prohibits posting signs on utility poles, streetlights, sign posts, and trees in a public right-of-way. At the time their actions were brought, plaintiffs were both candidates for political office in an area of the city that contains "a classic urban landscape of row house neighborhoods, where most homes have no front yard." They claimed that, given their limited funds, they would have ordinarily relied heavily on signs posted on street poles to spread their political messages. Several political candidates received numerous tickets. The district court ruled in favor of the city. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting claims that the ordinance violated the First, Fourteenth, and Twenty-Fourth Amendments. Plaintiffs conceded that the ordinance is content-neutral. It is narrowly tailored to serve significant governmental interests and leaves open ample alternatives for communication. View "Johnson v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law