Article VII of the Municipalities Planning Code provides local governments with authority to enact land use controls for planned residential developments (“PRDs”). Generally, a PRD is a larger integrated residential and non-residential development with open space and recreational facilities. A PRD ordinance governs approval of these larger developments and allows for design flexibility. The MPC describes a two-step review process requiring both tentative and final approval. Parties impacted by a PRD may raise objections and challenge PRD approval, but the MPC requires those parties follow a very specific process to be successful.
In Pennypacker v. Ferguson Township, the Commonwealth Court clarified that process, finding that “the critical step in the PRD process is tentative plan approval.” 167 A.3d 209 (Pa. Commw. 2017). In Pennypacker, a developer proposed construction of 268 dwelling units affecting 44 acres known as the “Cottages at State College”. Ferguson Township granted tentative approval and then, subject to additional revisions and conditions, granted final approval. Objecting parties appealed this decision to the Centre County Court of Common Pleas arguing the PRD plan did not comply with the ordinance, approval was an abuse of discretion or error of law, and approval violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Common Pleas Court reversed the Township decision and the developer appealed to the Commonwealth Court claiming objecting parties failed to raise an appeal of tentative approval.
The MPC mandates that an appeal of final PRD approval is not permitted if a party fails to appeal tentative approval, unless the final plan deviates from the tentative plan. The Commonwealth Court determined that objecting parties failed to appeal tentative approval and failed to state in their notice of appeal how the final plan approval was different from tentative approval. Therefore, the Court remanded the case back to the trial court to quash the objectors appeal and permit development to proceed.
Any legal challenge is subject to critical procedural hurdles that, if missed, may result in unfavorable outcomes. Not every PRD can be challenged, but often there is an opportunity for concerned neighbors to participate in the approval process and ensure development occurs in a responsible way. For more information about the rights of parties impacted by planned residential development and the procedures for raising objections and challenging PRD approval, contact attorney Ryan Hamilton at (412) 567-9799.