How to find out if has a company applied for zoning permits

Once a company or developer has submitted an application for zoning other land use permits, those applications and materials (forms, site plans, etc.) are now public record.

When a company submits a request for a land use permit, it triggers various legal responsibilities by the municipality. One of those responsibilities may be to hold a public hearing on the application so that the public can provide input, especially if the company is applying for a zoning variance, another exceptional use approval, or if the size of the development is large enough to warrant a public meeting.  Depending on the gas company's type of land use application, the information will be shared in different ways.

If the development is occurring by-right (i.e. no variances or exceptions required), then the owner or developer must typically display notice that a zoning application has been filed at the site of the proposed development. The details of the application are publicly available information. They should be accessible at the local zoning office, but may require a Right to Know request to the governing body.

If the development does require a variance, conditional approval, or exception, then there will likely be a public meeting held by a Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) or a different overseeing body, such as a planning commission or board of directions. These meetings may be announced several ways, such as local news outlets, social media, flyers delivered to residents and businesses near the development, or in the minutes of previous public municipal meetings.

It is often required (either by the Municipal Planning Code or the local ordinance itself) that a public notification should be made that described things like where and when these meetings will be held.  The language in the Municipal Planning Code is a bit outdated and in many cases requires that the public be notified by putting the information in a newspaper of local circulation. As you may imagine, some places may or may not have a 'local newspaper' anymore and fewer and fewer people read print media every day. So this is not always an effective way of notifying the community.

Public notice and hearing requirements vary depending on the type of zoning permit that is being submitted.  For descriptions of the public processes that are required for the different permit approvals, refer to:

        Permitted/by-right use

        Conditional Use

        Variance

        Special Exemption

        Substantive Validity

For example, if a company submits an application for a conditional use variance, they will first submit that application to the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB). A record of the submission should be noted in the ZHB's meeting minutes, which is one place to look for more information.  Those meeting minutes are sometimes made available on your community's website and sometimes will need to be obtained through a Right to Know Request to your local government.  Once the ZHB has received submission, they will need to hold a public meeting on the application that allows the opportunity for public comment.  They must give notice of that public meeting a certain number of days beforehand by posting information about it in a newspaper of local circulation.

Here are some places to look for information on applications:

         Local newspapers

         Signs posted prominently near affected area

         Planning Commission meeting minutes

         Board of Commissioner meeting minutes

         Zoning Hearing Board meetings

If possible, attending the in-person monthly meetings of your Board of Commissioners, Planning Commission, etc. may give you the best opportunity for keeping apprised of the relevant public details.

Resources

         Special Exceptions, Conditional Uses and Variances – Planning Series #7;

         The Zoning Hearing Board Planning Series #6;

         The Planning Commission in Pennsylvania - Planning Series #2;

         Citizen’s Guide to the Permitting and Approval Process for Land Development in Pennsylvania

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