Is Zoning Hearing Decision In Writing (Not Publicly Announced) Invalid ?
In Pae v. Hilltown Township Zoning Hearing Board, 35 Pa. Commw. 229, 385 A.2d 616 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1978), the landowners asserted that the oral decision made at a zoning hearing board meeting was not the formal action required by the Sunshine Act because Section 908(9) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) requires a written decision.
The Court rejected landowners' contentions. Further, a decision of the zoning hearing board issued in writing but not publicly announced is invalid. Bruno v. Zoning Bd. of Adjustment, 664 A.2d 1077, 1079 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1995) citing Skopic v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of Hemlock Twp., 80 Pa. Commw. 60, 471 A.2d 123 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1984).
In Bruno, this court held that where the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment orally voted to deny a use variance, but the board erroneously issued a notice that the use variance was granted, the oral vote of the board constituted a valid adjudication. Bruno, 664 A.2d at 1079.
Further, Zoning Ordinance 20.7.C.2 provides that the Board must render a final decision within 30 days after the adjournment of the public hearing and that the solicitor must correspond with the applicant in writing within 15 days following the final decision informing the applicant of the decision.
Section 20.7.C.2 also states that the decision of the Board shall be accompanied by findings of fact and the conclusions based thereon.
Thus, 20.7.C.2 contemplates that the final decision of the Board is something different than the written decision issued by the Board.
In addition, the MPC requires that a governing body render a written decision within 45 days.
The 45 day requirement is meant to ensure that applicants do not suffer undue delay at the hands of a governing body.
Section 913.2(b)(2) of the MPC provides a remedy for applicants when the governing body fails to issue a written decision within 45 days.
Section 913.2(b)(2) of the MPC provides in relevant part:
Where the governing body fails to render the decision within the period required by this subsection ... the decision shall be deemed to have been rendered in favor of the applicant ...53 P.S. 10913.2(b)(2)
The requirement that the governing body issue a written decision exists for the benefit of an applicant and the appellate courts. See Bruno, 664 A.2d at 1079 (the requirement that adjudications be in writing goes to the reviewability of an adjudication, not to its validity).
Thus, the written decision provides a basis upon which the applicant and appellate courts can assess the validity of land use claims.