Reeves Family Real Estate, L.P. v. Bd. of Supervisors of Schuylkill Township, 378 C.D. 2020

CourtCommonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtOPINION BY JUDGE WOJCIK
Parties REEVES FAMILY REAL ESTATE, L.P., Select Sites, L.P. and Pohlig Builders, LLC v. BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF SCHUYLKILL TOWNSHIP and Glenn Makela Appeal of: Glenn Makela Reeves Family Real Estate, L.P., Select Sites, L.P., and Pohlig Builders, LLC v. Board of Supervisors of Schuylkill Township and Glenn Makela Appeal of: Board of Supervisors of Schuylkill Township Reeves Family Real Estate, L.P., Select Sites, L.P., and Pohlig Builders, LLC, Appellants v. Board of Supervisors of Schuylkill Township and Glenn Makela
Docket Number378 C.D. 2020, No. 380 C.D. 2020, No. 712 C.D. 2020, No. 713 C.D. 2020
Decision Date13 April 2022

273 A.3d 1277

REEVES FAMILY REAL ESTATE, L.P., Select Sites, L.P. and Pohlig Builders, LLC
v.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF SCHUYLKILL TOWNSHIP and Glenn Makela

Appeal of: Glenn Makela

Reeves Family Real Estate, L.P., Select Sites, L.P., and Pohlig Builders, LLC
v.
Board of Supervisors of Schuylkill Township and Glenn Makela

Appeal of: Board of Supervisors of Schuylkill Township

Reeves Family Real Estate, L.P., Select Sites, L.P., and Pohlig Builders, LLC, Appellants
v.
Board of Supervisors of Schuylkill Township and Glenn Makela

No. 378 C.D. 2020
No. 380 C.D. 2020
No. 712 C.D. 2020
No. 713 C.D. 2020

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued June 7, 2021
Decided April 13, 2022
Reargument Denied June 2, 2022


Glenn R. Diehl, West Chester, for Designated Appellant Glenn Makela.

William J. Brennan, King of Prussia, for Designated Appellant Board of Supervisors of Schuylkill Township.

John C. Snyder, Wayne, for Designated Appellees Reeves Family Real Estate, L.P., Select Sites, L.P., and Pohlig Builders, LLC.

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge,1 HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge, HONORABLE ELLEN CEISLER, Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE WOJCIK

The Board of Supervisors (Board) of Schuylkill Township (Township) and Glenn Makela (Intervenor) appeal the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County (trial court), which granted the appeal of Reeves Family Real Estate, L.P., Select Sites, L.P., and Pohlig Builders, LLC (together, Applicants), and reversed and remanded the Board's decision to deny Applicants’ application for tentative approval of a Planned Residential Development (PRD). Applicants filed a cross-appeal on the remand issue.2 Per this Court's order dated July 2, 2020, the parties were directed to address whether the January 14, 2020 trial court order is a final, appealable order. Further, per this Court's order dated June 21, 2021, we granted permission for the parties to file supplemental briefs, which we now consider along with the record and briefs already filed. As to the jurisdictional issue, we hold that the trial court's order is a final, appealable order, pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 311(f). On the merits, we reverse and remand to the trial court to reinstate the Board's order that denied Applicants’ PRD application.

As summarized by the Board, Reeves Family Real Estate, L.P. is the title owner

273 A.3d 1280

of a parcel containing 65.751 acres located in Schuylkill Township, Chester County. Select Sites, L.P. is the title owner of a contiguous parcel containing .9737 acres. Together, the two parcels, containing a total of 66.72 acres, comprise the property at issue here (Subject Property). Pohlig Builders, LLC, is the equitable owner of the Reeves parcel and the authorized agent for the Select Sites parcel. In 2018, Applicants submitted their PRD application that is the subject of this appeal to the Township, where Applicants sought to develop the Subject Property as 94 dwelling units. Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 8a-10a.

The Subject Property is bordered on the eastern and southern edges by the Pickering Reservoir. A finger or stream of the reservoir bisects the Property from east to west. The stream is currently crossed at the western edge of the Property by a gravel road over a water culvert by way of an easement from Aqua America, Inc. The Subject Property is connected to Valley Forge Road (Pennsylvania Route 23) via a 50-foot panhandle, and the Property is located at the end of East Philip Drive, a cul-de-sac road. Both the panhandle and access to East Philip Drive are north of the stream, leaving approximately two-thirds of the Property to the south of the stream. R.R. at 9a, 167a.

Prior to their 2018 PRD application, Applicants submitted a 51-unit, single-family dwelling unit residential development plan, which they pursued from 2006 through 2009, and which the Board never approved. This plan (51 Lot Plan) remains in suspension following an open-ended extension agreement. Applicants could pursue the 51 Lot Plan if their PRD application is not approved. R.R. at 10a-11a.

After the suspension of the 51 Lot Plan and before the PRD application was filed, the Board and Applicants began discussing amending the Schuylkill Township Code (Code)3 by enacting a PRD Ordinance4 to establish a PRD Overlay District which would encompass the Subject Property. Pursuant to Article VII of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC),5 the PRD Ordinance would establish certain development standards and conditions required for tentative approval of a PRD application. When drafting the PRD Ordinance, the Board met and consulted with Applicants, the Planning Commission, the Historic Commission, and the Environmental Advisory Board. During these discussions, Applicants presented numerous plans that could be submitted for review under a PRD Ordinance, arriving at "Plan J," which was a rough template of the PRD application eventually submitted for consideration, after the PRD Ordinance was enacted. R.R. at 13a-14a.

In 2013, the Township held three public hearings on the proposed PRD Ordinance, during which Applicants presented Plan J as an example of a plan that could be reviewed under the proposed PRD Ordinance, if enacted. After public hearings, the Board enacted the PRD Ordinance, including Appendix A, on November 20, 2013. R.R. at 632a-89a. One month later, the Board amended the zoning map to designate the Subject Property as being within the newly established PRD Overlay

273 A.3d 1281

District. Although the Board discussed Plan J as part of its review and enactment of the PRD Ordinance, it did not approve Plan J or any other plan when it enacted the PRD Ordinance. The Board stated that any tentative plans would need to be submitted for review and approval, subject to public hearings, other studies, and reviews required by the MPC and the PRD Ordinance. Id. at 14a-15a.

Five years elapsed between the enactment of the PRD Ordinance and Applicants’ submission of their PRD application in 2018. After Applicants submitted their PRD application, the Board held public hearings on April 2, April 30, May 9, May 10, May 25, and May 31, 2018.6 Several neighbors were granted party status during the hearings, including Intervenor. R.R. at 16a-17a.

At the hearings, Applicants presented their PRD application, which was similar in many respects to Plan J. Applicants sought to develop a cluster residential plan, age-targeted at empty-nesters, comprised of 94 dwellings, with 10 new homes and 1 existing home on the northern portion of the Subject Property, and 80 new and 3 existing dwellings on the southern portion. Applicants proposed a controlled, gated access onto East Philip Drive, to provide a second entrance/exit to the Subject Property. Applicants also proposed the development of an improved culvert crossing, to provide for travel between the northern and southern portions of the Property. Applicants also sought relief from the Township's Stormwater Ordinance,7 to permit an alternative management approach. In support of their PRD application, Applicants presented testimony from four engineers and the developer, Mr. Pohlig, along with numerous documentary exhibits. In opposition to the PRD application, neighboring parties/objectors presented testimony from four engineers and a neighbor, along with documentary evidence. R.R. at 17a-19a.

On July 30, 2018, the Board issued a decision containing 154 findings of fact, 9 conclusions of law, and a discussion. R.R. at 8a-55a. The Board, by a vote of 3-2, with two commissioners dissenting, denied Applicants’ PRD application because it did not comply with Sections 252-102(B),8 252-104(C)(1),9 and 252-113(B)(2), (4), and (5) of the PRD Ordinance.10 The Board held that

273 A.3d 1282

the PRD application did not comply with Section 252-102(B) of the PRD Ordinance because, although the Subject Property had two points of access, by way of the entrance to Valley Forge Road and the gated entrance to the East Philip Drive cul-de-sac, the unique topography of the site effectively denied two points of access to the residents in the southern two-thirds of the property. The Board found that the vast majority of residences on the southern portion (83 residences or 88% of the 94 total residences) would have only one effective means of accessing public roads from their lots, namely over the proposed new culvert crossing. The Board found that "[t]here is no competent evidence of record, deemed credible by the Board, by which Applicants have established that the proposed development will have minimal impact on fire and other emergency services provided within the Township." R.R. at 26a. Relatedly, the Board found that the single culvert crossing would substantially restrict and preclude emergency vehicle access to the majority of units in the southern portion, and, as such, constituted an abnormal adverse effect of the plan. The Board found that another existing gravel driveway crossing the culvert did not provide a second suitable emergency access, leaving only a single access point for the majority of residents in the southern portion. The Board noted that, although Applicants’ proposal to add sprinklers to the units on the southern portion would somewhat ameliorate fire safety concerns, it would not suitably address health or other public safety...

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