Interpretation of Section 603 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code

In LaRock v. Board of Supervisors of Sugarloaf Township, 866 A.2d 1208 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005), applicants filed a petition for a curative amendment alleging the township zoning ordinance excluded or failed to provide a fair share of non-coal surface mining and related activities. The curative amendment sought the creation of a new zoning district that would include applicants' property. at the time applicants filed the curative amendment request, the zoning ordinance permitted mining in its I-1 General Industrial District but did not specifically refer to non-coal excavation. The township amended its ordinance to include non-coal mining after applicants filed their curative amendment. Testimony before the township's board of supervisors debated whether mining in the I-1 General Industrial District was exhausted. Ultimately, the board determined the ordinance was valid and, therefore, a new zoning district was not needed. The trial court reversed, concluding the ordinance failed to provide reasonable mineral development where credible testimony established less than one percent of township land was available for mineral extraction. On further appeal, the Court held the trial court erroneously limited its review to the percentage of land available for mining in assessing whether the ordinance was valid. Speaking through Judge Cohn Jubelirer, the Court explained Section 603 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) taken as a whole, weighs and balances several different interests in requiring zoning ordinances to reflect the policy goals of the community, and subsection (i) sets out the reasonable development of minerals as one such interest. However, the statute requires a balancing of interests to determine whether the zoning ordinance, which provides for mining ... is reasonable. In determining what is "reasonable," the board and ... court must consider the various factors delineated in Section 603, including, but not limited to, subsection (i). Section 603 acknowledges: the special nature of various sites within the municipality; the special protection and preservation allowed for natural resources and agricultural land; that zoning ordinances may contain provisions to promote agriculture; and, that ordinances adopted shall be consistent with the municipal comprehensive plan. 866 A.2d at 1213. Because the trial court only evaluated the percentage of land available for mining and failed to review other statutory requirements, the Court vacated its order and remanded for a determination as to whether the ordinance as a whole was reasonable.