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Opinion and Order Reversing Decison of Board of Commissioners

Opinion and Order Reversing Decison of Board of Commissioners

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Published by Cheryl Allison

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Published by: Cheryl Allison on Jul 23, 2012
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05/13/2014

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INTHECOURTOFCOMMONPLEASOFMONTGOMERYCOUNTY,PENNSYLVANIACIVILACTION-LAWRIGHTERSFERRYASSOCIATES,LPPlaintiff
No.2010-03897
vs.BOARDOFCOMMISSIONERSOFTHETOWNSHIPOFLOWERMERIONDefendantLandUseAppealandBRIDGEHEAD
&
FOOTBRIDGE,LPIntervenors
FACTUALANDPROCEDURALmSTORY
RightersFerryAssociates,LP("RFA")ownsthepropertyatissueat600RightersFerryRoad,BalaCynwyd,locatedintheManufacturingandIndustrialDistrict("M-District")ofLowerMerionTownship.ThispropertyisalsolocatedalongthefloodwayfringeoftheSchuylkillRiver.BothBridgehead,LPandFootbridge,LP("BHFB")ownthesurroundingpropertiesat615-620RightersFerryRoadand601RightersFerryRoad,respectively.OnApril30,2008,LowerMerionTownship("Township")amendedtheLowerMerionTownshipCode("Code")topermitapartmentdevelopmentonparcelsintheM-DistrictlocatedadjacenttotheSchuylkillRiverbyconditionaluse.OnJuly11,2008,RFAfiledaconditionaluseapplication("application")underCode§155-,89(D)toallowfordevelopmentof580apartmentunitsonitsproperty.Duetoitslocation,anapartmentcomplexat600RightersFerryRoadwouldbesubjecttoboththeM-Districtandfloodplainconditionalusecriteria(Code§§155-90.1and155-160).FromApril7,2009untilDecember9,2009,theLowerMerionZoningHearingBoard("Board")heldhearingsonRFA'sconditionaluseapplication.OnJanuary20,2010,theBoardapprovedtheapplicationsubjecttothirtyfour(34)conditions.RFAfiledanoticeofappealonFebruary19,2010regardingtheimpositionofconditions1,2,4-9,11-16,17-18,21,23,26-30,32and34.RFAsubsequentlyfiledamotiontopresentadditionalevidenceonMarch4,2010
 
butwithdrewsaidmotiononApril19,2012.OnMarch19,2010,BHFBfiledapetitiontointerveneinthismatter.
I
ThisunopposedmotionwasgrantedonApril6,2010.OnJune15,2011,RFAfiledamotiontoenforceanallegedsettlementagreementbetweenitselfandtheTownshipbutwithdrewthatmotiononJune26,2012.ThepartiesappearedbeforetheundersignedforargumentonApril20,2012.Duringthisargument,RFAfocusedonthecontestedconditions,claimingcertainconditionsimposedbytheTownshipexceededitsauthorityandwerepossiblyillegal.Inresponse,theTownshiparguedthattheconditionsimposedwerebasedontherequirementsoftheCode.BHFB'spositionwasthattheBoardcommittedreversibleerrorinfailingtodenytheapplicationwheretheBoardproperlyconcludedthatRFA'sconditionaluseapplicationfailedtocomplywithnumerousobjectivestandardscontainedwithintheCode.Afterthetwo-hourhearing,theCourttookthematterunderadvisement.ThisOpinionaddressesallissuesraisedbeforetheCourt.
CONCLUSIONSOFLAW
ThisCourtmustfirstquestionwhetherRFAmetthespecificM-Districtandfloodplainconditionalusecriteria.
Kotzin
v.
PlymouthTownshipZoningBoardofAdjustment,
149A.2d116(Pa.1959)(whenalandlordappliestomunicipalauthoritiesforaspecialexception,thezoningboard'sfunctionistodeterminewhetherthespecificfacts,circumstancesandconditionsexistwhichcomplywiththestandardoftheordinancewhichmeritthegrantingoftheexception).OnlyifRFAmetthebasiccriteriaofthepertinentCodesandordinances,canwethenanalyzethespecificconditionsandquestionwhethertheBoardhadtheauthoritytoimposesuchrequirements.TheCourtrecognizesthataTownshiphastherighttoimposeconditionsitbelievesarenecessarytoimplementthepurposesofthePennsylvaniaMunicipalitiesPlanningCodeandthezoningordinance.MPC§603(c)(2).However,initsbrief,theBoardconcedesthatcompliancewiththegeneralcriteriawithintheCodewasnotdemonstratedbutitchosetogiveRFAthechancetoamendthesedeficienciesatthelanddevelopmentstage.
See,
Decision,p.54,Finding,20.
It
iswell-settledcaselawthat,inordertoobtainaspecialexceptionorconditionaluse,itistheapplicant'sburdentodemonstratefullcompliancewiththestandardsandcriteriaintheordinance.
Baird
v.
NewBritainTownship,
537A.2d976,977(Pa.Cmwlth.1988).
I
BHFB'sappealatdocketnumber2010-03821wassubsequentlyconsolidatedintothiscase.
2
 
Furthermore,Code§155-141.2(B)(regardingconditionaluseapplicationprocedureandstandards)provides,inpertinentpart:(6)Theapplicant
shall
providesufficientplans,studiesorotherdatatodemonstratecompliancewiththeregulationsforthepermitteduseorothersuchregulations,asmaybethesubjectofconsiderationforaconditionaluseapproval.(emphasisadded).
-
....
Theterm"shall"incommonlegalusagehasbeendefinedasfollows:Shall.Asusedinstatutes,contracts,orthelike,thiswordisgenerallyimperativeormandatory.Incommonorordinaryparlance,andinitsordinarysignification,theterm"shall"isawordofcommand,andonewhichhasalwaysorwhichmustbegivenacompulsorymeaning;asdenotingobligation.
Commonwealth
v.
Ferguson,
552A.2d1075,1079(pa.Super.1988).Whenazoningordinancecontainsspecificrequirementsforaspecialexception,anapplicant'splansmustdepicthowtheproposeddevelopmentwillcomplywiththoserequirements,evenifcomplianceistobeaccomplishedinthefuture.
InreAppealofSWLandAssociates,LLC,
2010WL5943277(Pa.Com.PI.2010).TheEdgemontcourt,forexample,didnotsuggestthattheproposedlandandbuildingalterationshadtobeperformedbeforeaspecialexceptioncouldissue;rather,solongastheplanincludedtheseprovisionsinasatisfactorymanner,approvalcouldbegivenconditioneduponfullcompliancewiththeplanatalaterdate.
Id.
citing
Broussard
v.
Zontng
BoardofAdjustmentoftheCityofPittsburgh,
907A.2d494,501(Pa.2006)...ThePennsylvaniaSupremeCourthassquarelyaddressedtheissue,holdingthatanapplicantforaspecialexceptioncanobtainapprovalconditioned,onfuturecompliancewithzoningrequirements,
butonlyaslongasdetailedplansaresubmittedonwhichazoningboardcanbaseitsapproval.
(emphasisadded)
Id.
citing
Broussard
at501-502.
ANALYSIS
Inthepresentcase,RFAsubmittedanapplicationwhichtheBoardfoundtohavebothsubstantialandminordeficienciesthatdidnotmeetthegeneralcriteriaforaspecialexception.Wewillnotaddressallofthedeficiencies;however,forpurposesofillustratingtheCourt'sdeterminationthattheapplicationwasdefective,wewilladdressseveralofthedeficienciesindividually.Forexample,theapplicationcalledfor870parkingspaces,502thatwereoutsideofthefloodplain.TheBoardconcludedthatRFAfailedtocomplywith§155-160(A)oftheCode,whichprovides,inpertinentpart,"thefollowingusesmaybepermittedwithintheFloodplainDistrictasspecialexceptions...pavedroads,drivewaysandparkingareas,provided3

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