Say No to Development

Why Can't We Just Say No to Development?

The charming open spaces, easy access to highways, and rural ambiance of West Rockhill make it a desirable place for many to reside. However, rapid expansion and development may alter the picturesque scenery of West Rockhill Township, which initially attracted residents.

In recent decades, numerous commercial development and  housing projects have emerged across upper Bucks County. Given that urban sprawl and development might negatively impact the township, one might wonder why it cannot simply direct developers elsewhere. Furthermore, why would the township even attempt to facilitate development by designating land for higher-density purposes?

There are two legal factors that prevent West Rockhill from entirely halting development and, in fact, require the township to accommodate it. Firstly, the township cannot prohibit private property owners from deriving some economic benefit from their properties. This concept is commonly referred to as the "takings clause," as stated in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

When a government regulation deprives a property of all economic use or value, it results in a "taking" of the property. In a land-use context, this is applied through zoning regulations, which dictate that all properties must be zoned to permit some form of housing and/or commercial use.

Secondly, every municipality is required to provide basic types of housing, as well as all institutional, commercial, and industrial uses. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has determined, through a series of rulings, that each community must accommodate its "fair share" of every specific use.

If the land zoned for a particular use is disproportionately small or if the use cannot be reasonably facilitated under zoning ordinances, courts will deem the ordinance exclusionary. They will then grant relief and allow the developer to construct whatever they desire, irrespective of the municipality's zoning ordinance. As a result, West Rockhill's zoning ordinance must include provisions for all kinds of development in order to satisfy this fair share obligation.