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PA Appeals Court Find Competing Hotel Owner Did Not Have Standing to Challenge Zoning Board Decision

This post was authored by Gabriella Mickel, JD Candidate 2024, Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University

In this case, a competing hotel owner, South Bethlehem Associates, LP, challenged the decision of the Zoning Hearing Board of Bethlehem Township Pennsylvania to grant variances to Central PA Equities 30, LLC for the construction of a new hotel two blocks away. The main issue at hand is whether the competing hotel owner has the legal standing to seek a judicial review of the zoning board’s decision.

The court noted that ordinarily, standing requires a showing of adverse impact, that reflects a “substantial, direct, and immediate interest in the matter.” The court then explained that the standard is broader for local administrative proceedings. In this case, the court interpreted the relevant provisions of the MPC to determine the extent of standing for judicial appeals in zoning matters.

The court examined the provisions of the MPC and concluded that while standing before a local zoning board may be broader, the prerequisites for appealing to a court of law, as outlined in Article XA of the MPC, are not explicitly defined. The court found that the legislature likely intended for the courts to determine standing for judicial review per the court’s traditional understanding of the concept. It is also emphasized that standing requires a legally enforceable interest affected by the matter complained of and that interests based solely on market competition do not meet this requirement.

The court held that a party, such as the competing hotel owner, who appeared before a zoning board may only appeal an adverse decision to the court if that party meets the traditional criteria for judicial standing. Thus, the competing hotel owners did not have standing to bring a judicial action to challenge the zoning board’s decision.

South Bethlehem Associates, LP v Zoning Hearing Board of Bethlehem Township, 2023 WL 3471359 (PA 5/16/2023)