Today, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf approved legislation effectively detailing how municipalities may, if they so choose, conduct public meetings and hearings electronically during this time of public emergency in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The law does provide a mechanism whereby an applicant can request that a municipality hold a public meeting or hearing on a particular application although, the municipality is under no obligation to do so.
Many municipalities have already adopted procedures for conducting virtual meetings and hearings and have been conducting those meetings during this time of emergency. The new law adds more clarity as to procedural safeguards which municipalities must follow in scheduling and holding public meetings and hearings.
The law permits, but does not require, local municipalities to conduct public meetings electronically. The law further provides that a political subdivision may not consider any application, plat, plan, submission, appeal or curative amendment during a meeting unless notice to the public and interested parties has been provided at least 5 days prior to the meeting on the entity’s website or in a newspaper of general circulation or both.
The law also “tolls” for a period beginning with the Governor’s declaration of disaster emergency dated March 6, 2020 and ending 30 days after the effective date of the legislation, the period of time in which a municipality must review and/or vote on a development application pending or received during the period of public emergency. For example, if a conditional use application was filed with a municipality on April 1, 2020, the 60-day time period in which the municipality has to schedule and hold a hearing on the application is tolled and resumes on May 20, 2020, which is 30 days after the effective date of the legislation.
It is not clear if the law would extend the applicable time period for proceeding pursuant to existing approvals as was the case during the Great Recession with the Pennsylvania Development Permit Extension Act. We do not believe it would be prudent to assume an automatic extension of said approvals absent consultation with land use counsel.
In summary, the law gives municipalities a mechanism for conducting public meetings and/or hearings in a manner different than that allowed under current law. The ramifications of this law should be discussed thoroughly with your land use counsel as the risk/reward of proceeding with the municipal entitlement process under the new law during this time of public emergency must be thoroughly understood and tailored to each individual matter.
If you have any questions, you may contact me on my cell 610-247-9671 or by email Lou@rrhc.com or you may contact any of our land use lawyers whose email addresses are available on our website at www.rrhc.com. They will be sure to return your inquiry as expeditiously as possible.