Berks County Bar Association The Berks Barrister Spring 2019 - 18

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Municipal Law Update -

Court Rulings
Test Assumptions
By Joan E. London, Esquire

T

he adage about what happens "to u and me" when you
"assume" has taken on special meaning with several
recent Pennsylvania appellate court rulings affecting local
government.
Conventional positions staked out by solicitors without
much hesitation have been upended by the Pennsylvania
Commonwealth Court and state Supreme Court in several diverse
areas of municipal law.
No longer can we assume that "uses not provided for" clauses
in zoning ordinances will protect municipalities from exclusionary
zoning challenges. Same goes for requiring uniformity in historic
preservation regulations or abstaining from voting to prevent a
finding of a conflict of interest. And do not assume that when you
park a vehicle along a road and get out of that vehicle you are no
longer "operating" that vehicle.
Here's a comprehensive look at some of the surprising holdings
that have challenged long-held assumptions.

The Savings Clause may not "save" the use:

Gorsline v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfield Township, 186 A.3d
375 (Pa., June 1, 2018)
In Gorsline, the issue presented was whether the Board of
Supervisors properly approved as a conditional use an application
for a natural gas facility with multiple wells in a Residential18 | Berks Barrister

Agricultural (R-A) zoning district. The Township Zoning
Ordinance contained a clause that where a use was not specifically
provided for, it was permissible as a conditional use if it could be
shown that the proposed use is "similar to and compatible with"
other uses allowed in the district. In the hearings, there was expert
testimony presented by the applicant (Inflection Energy, LLC),
and neighbor opposition. The Township approved the application,
as a use not provided for in the ordinance governed by the savings
clause. The Board, however, made no findings to support the use
under the savings clause, and the decision did not contain specific
performance standards in the ordinance governing gas well uses,
especially in R-A District, so there was no basis for protective
conditions.
The opponents appealed to the Court of Common Pleas,
where Inflection took the position of substantial similarity to a
permitted "public service facility" use. The trial court reversed
the Township's decision, finding no reasoning on how a private
gas drilling operation bore similarity to a "public service facility."
Inflection appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which reversed
the lower court, based on its decision in MarkWest Liberty
Midstream & Resources, LLC v. Cecil Twp. Zoning Hrg. Bd., 102
A.3d 549 (Pa. Commw. 2014), which had found similarity of gas
drilling operations with an "essential service" use (in MarkWest, the
gas drilling operation was found analogous to the manufacturing
uses allowed in the underlying industrial district).
The neighbors filed a petition for certiorari to the Pennsylvania


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Berks County Bar Association The Berks Barrister Spring 2019

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