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State court backs developer in warehouse spat

A state appeals court has sided with a local developer aiming to build a warehouse complex in Swatara Township, Dauphin County.

  • The decision is the latest in a long-running battle over whether warehouses should be allowed on tracts along Route 322 east of Harrisburg, near Penhar Drive.
  • State court shot down a previous developer’s efforts in March 2022
  • A month later, the land’s owner, Camp Hill-based Smith Land & Improvement Corp., filed new plans for four warehouses.
  • But a township zoning official denied Smith Land’s application, a decision upheld by Swatara’s zoning hearing board and Dauphin County court.
  • In its ruling this week, Commonwealth Court tossed out the county court decision.

 

Why: The Commonwealth Court ruling — authored by Judge Ellen Ceisler — revolved around a couple of questions.

  • One was whether the township zoning official had authority to deny Smith Land’s conditional-use application.
  • The court answered “no”, arguing that authority lies with township commissioners.
  • A second question revolved around a doctrine invoked by the township when it sought to bar warehouses on properties zoned for commercial use.

 

What doctrine: The pending ordinance doctrine, which allows municipalities to reject developments that conflict with zoning ordinances that have not yet taken effect.

  • In early 2022, Swatara commissioners were debating an ordinance removing warehouses as a permitted use in certain commercial zones, including the property owned by Smith Land.
  • The ordinance was adopted at a meeting on April 6, 2022. But the commissioners approved a resolution on March 9, 2022, citing the pending ordinance doctrine to claim the ordinance took effect March 2.
  • Smith Land submitted its conditional-use application on the morning of April 6, ahead of the township meeting that night.
  • The township said the pending ordinance doctrine applied to the Smith Land application, rendering it moot.
  • Commonwealth Court disagreed, based on language in Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code.

 

What’s next: The state court gave the county court 20 days to issue an order vacating the zoning hearing board’s decision and sending the matter back to the hearing board.

  • A township official had not yet seen the ruling and declined to comment.
  • Township solicitor Scott Wyland declined to comment, saying he was elected solicitor this year after a two-year absence and was not involved in the matter.
  • An attorney for Smith Land did not comment by press time.
  • The company had been hoping to sell the property to the previous developer, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based CRG Integrated Real Estate Solutions.

A state appeals court has sided with a local developer aiming to build a warehouse complex in Swatara Township, Dauphin County.

  • The decision is the latest in a long-running battle over whether warehouses should be allowed on tracts along Route 322 east of Harrisburg, near Penhar Drive.
  • State court shot down a previous developer’s efforts in March 2022
  • A month later, the land’s owner, Camp Hill-based Smith Land & Improvement Corp., filed new plans for four warehouses.
  • But a township zoning official denied Smith Land’s application, a decision upheld by Swatara’s zoning hearing board and Dauphin County court.
  • In its ruling this week, Commonwealth Court tossed out the county court decision.

 

Why: The Commonwealth Court ruling — authored by Judge Ellen Ceisler — revolved around a couple of questions.

  • One was whether the township zoning official had authority to deny Smith Land’s conditional-use application.
  • The court answered “no”, arguing that authority lies with township commissioners.
  • A second question revolved around a doctrine invoked by the township when it sought to bar warehouses on properties zoned for commercial use.

 

What doctrine: The pending ordinance doctrine, which allows municipalities to reject developments that conflict with zoning ordinances that have not yet taken effect.

  • In early 2022, Swatara commissioners were debating an ordinance removing warehouses as a permitted use in certain commercial zones, including the property owned by Smith Land.
  • The ordinance was adopted at a meeting on April 6, 2022. But the commissioners approved a resolution on March 9, 2022, citing the pending ordinance doctrine to claim the ordinance took effect March 2.
  • Smith Land submitted its conditional-use application on the morning of April 6, ahead of the township meeting that night.
  • The township said the pending ordinance doctrine applied to the Smith Land application, rendering it moot.
  • Commonwealth Court disagreed, based on language in Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code.

 

What’s next: The state court gave the county court 20 days to issue an order vacating the zoning hearing board’s decision and sending the matter back to the hearing board.

  • A township official had not yet seen the ruling and declined to comment.
  • Township solicitor Scott Wyland declined to comment, saying he was elected solicitor this year after a two-year absence and was not involved in the matter.
  • An attorney for Smith Land did not comment by press time.
  • The company had been hoping to sell the property to the previous developer, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based CRG Integrated Real Estate Solutions.

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