Real Estate Litigators Secure Zoning Case Reversal in PA Commonwealth Court

Stevens & Lee’s Real Estate Group Shareholders Charlie Suhr, Veronica Morrison and Ambrose Heinz won an appeal to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on behalf of client Smith Land & Improvement Corporation (Smith Land) seeking to vacate the Swatara Township Zoning Officer’s purported denial of Smith Land’s conditional use application for a warehouse development in Swatara Township.  

Smith Land filed the conditional use application by delivering the application to Swatara Township’s Zoning Officer approximately eight and a half hours prior to the Township enacting a new ordinance that deleted warehouses as a conditional use within one of the zoning districts Smith Land sought to develop. Two months later, the Zoning Officer issued a purported denial of the application, citing the new ordinance. Successive appeals challenging the Zoning Officer’s decision were denied by the Township’s Zoning Hearing Board and then the Common Pleas Court, which landed the case before the Commonwealth Court. Stevens & Lee  attorneys successfully established that (1) the Zoning Officer did not have authority to deny Smith Land’s conditional use application, and (2) the pending ordinance doctrine did not apply to Smith Land’s application pursuant to Section 917 of the Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Code. With the prior decisions being vacated, Smith Land now stands in a position to seek a deemed approval of its conditional use application for warehouses.

This decision also paves the way for another case currently pending in Dauphin County dealing with the same issue involving a different developer.  Swatara Township has appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  This outcome is an important win against growing opposition to warehousing development in the region.