Zoning Ordinance Rewrite

by Patty
(Harrisburg, Pa)

Visitor Question: Our township in Pennsylvania just did a zoning ordinance rewrite. The township manager keeps saying it made just minor changes; yet they took away all environmental protection ordinances, steep slope regulation, and open spaces requirements.

They also let anyone who happened to find out about this to have their property rezoned. It appears the only people who knew about this were developers and one township supervisor, who asked to have an acre property he owns changed from residential to highway commercial.

When it was time to vote on passing the update, several residents called out that this particular supervisor could not vote because the zoning of his property changed. Our township solicitor said he could vote because other residents' properties were changed too.

Does this (supervisor voting on his own property being rezoned) seem like a true statement?

Editors Comments: To be frank, it seems to us to be ethically questionable. Your solicitor may be correct in terms of the law, but common sense seems to be that your supervisor should not have voted. However, you would need to take into account the total number of supervisors. For example, if there were only three, it could have been important for the supervisor to vote. If there are nine, it becomes much more questionable in our opinion.

The expected closeness of the vote might be another factor to consider in how harsh your political judgment should be. If the supervisors estimated that the vote would be close, the property owning supervisor could have thought it was very important to record a vote.

In short, you have every right to draw a political conclusion about the supervisor's ethics, but since the township followed legal advice, it is impractical to consider any options other than the political one.

We also cannot resist a comment about a township repealing environmental provisions. That seems very unwise in light of extreme weather events. It seems like you and citizens who agree with you have some work to do.

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