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Philadelphia Real Estate Law Blog

More review needed for Jewelers' Row condo tower

Lying just one block from Independence Hall, Jewelers' Row is one of Philadelphia's most historically significant merchant districts. Since 1851, the district has been home to hundreds of jewelers. Now, however, a condominium development project will forever change the face of Jewelers' Row - if it receives approval from the City's Design Review Committee.

The 18 story tower comprises 80 condominium units that would replace five properties in the 700 block of Sansom Street. The project received conditional approval from the City's Department of Licenses and Inspections, but a recent snag threatens to at least slow the project and delay the start of construction.

Denial of variance may force treatment center to close

In Philadelphia and its suburbs, zoning boards often operate under the radar. Their decisions on rezonings, conditional use permits, map overlays and other land use issues receive little publicity unless a decision threatens the economic well-being of another business. Such a dispute is just beginning in Easton, where the zoning board has denied a use variance request that may force an alcohol and drug treatment center to close.

The Northeast Treatment Center has operated in Easton for 21 years, but its future is now threatened by a redevelopment plan that calls for the renovation of the building into 28 high-end apartments. The treatment center thought that it had an easy solution: move to another building about three blocks away. Unfortunately, treatment centers are not permitted in the zoning district where the center's potential new home stands.

Pennsylvania landowners appeal natural gas pipeline decision

There are a variety of important concerns that arise in situations of eminent domain; one of these dictates when private land can be taken for public use and how the owners should be properly compensated. A natural gas company recently received permission from a Pennsylvania court to run a liquid natural gas pipeline under the farmland of three Pennsylvania farms. The natural gas pipeline was granted the power of eminent domain to take a portion of the land for the pipeline project. The property owners, however, recently filed an appeal of the court's decision, which allowed condemnation of their property.

The landowners previously argued that the natural gas company lacks the authority to exercise eminent domain over their property. The property owners and their representative argued that under Pennsylvania state law, a private company, such as the natural gas company, lacks the authority to exercise eminent domain even if there is an element of public use at issue. Pennsylvania courts have ruled in similar cases that the natural gas company is a public utility with the ability to exercise eminent domain.

New zoning overlay may lead to shopping center revival

This blog has on several occasions written about the efforts of neighborhoods to stop or significantly modify various development proposals in the Philadelphia area. Now, a decision by a local zoning board to approve a significant re-zoning to allow an expanded commercial real estate development appears to have the approval of all concerned parties - including the adjacent neighborhoods.

The Towamencin Village Shopping Center has been vacant for several years. In a recent action, the Towamencin board of supervisors voted to amend the township zoning ordinance and approve a zoning overlay map that will allow redevelopment of the shopping center. The residents at the recent meeting expressed unanimous support for the action.

Justice Department sues Bensalem Township over mosque denial

Bensalem Township is Bucks County's largest municipality, and it contains temples, synagogues and churches; however, there aren't any mosques. In 2014 the township's zoning board refused to grant a variance to allow construction of a mosque, and it has now been accused of illegal discrimination in a lawsuit filed by the United States Department of Justice.

The Muslim congregation - known as a masjid - that wants to build the mosque, first began looking for a location for its mosque in 2008. When Bensalem Township denied the masjid's request for a variance to build the mosque in an area not zoned for religious institutions, the masjid filed suit in United States District Court accusing the township of discriminating against it.

Developer sues township to recover development costs

A developer who was forced to abandon plans for an ambitious project on land owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has now sued the township that repeatedly rejected his proposals. Like many real estate disputes, this lawsuit was generated by frustrated expectations.

In 2014, the developer outbid several competitors to win the right to acquire and redevelop 213 heavily forested acres in Marple Township. The developer bid $47 million for the development rights, and it also agreed to pay a non-refundable deposit of $5 million to the Archdiocese. The developer's first plan proposed hundreds of town homes and several big-box stores, but the township rejected the plan as calling for too much density. The developer also requested a change in the zoning of the land from institutional and residential to "planned community." The redevelopment plan was also opposed by people living in the vicinity because it threatened to destroy one of the last undeveloped parcels in the county.

Court resolves ambiguity in deficiency judgment procedures

Commercial lenders in Philadelphia and elsewhere routinely protect themselves by requiring borrowers to secure repayment of the loan by granting a mortgage that gives the lender the power to sell the land if the borrower defaults on repayment of the loan. In times of inflating real estate values, a mortgage usually provides adequate protection to the lender.

But when, as now, real estate values decline after a loan is made, lenders want additional protection, and one of the most common ways to obtain this is by seeking a deficiency judgment against the borrower if the land is not worth enough to pay the loan in full. Obtaining a deficiency judgment is a complex process that requires strict adherence to the real estate laws of Pennsylvania. In a recent real estate dispute arising out of a loan default, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court clarified an ambiguity in the law.

Developer and city settle affordable housing dispute

Two weeks ago, this blog discussed the controversy that resulted when the developer of One Water Place reneged on an agreement to provide a specified number of affordable units in the building. At the time of the post, the developer had not yet responded to the City of Philadelphia's accusation that it had violated the terms of the zoning permit granted by the City's zoning board. Now, the parties have settled the dispute with the developer agreeing to make a specified payment of $3.75 million to the City.

When the City issued the original zoning permit for the building, the developer received what is called a "height bonus" in return for the developer's agreement to include 25 below-market rate units in the building. The height bonus allowed the developer to add five additional floors to the building - or 30 full price units - to the building beyond what was allowed by the zoning code without the bonus. When it learned about the developer's decision to renege on the height bonus agreement, the City said that it would not issue an occupancy permit for the building, meaning that tenants could not move in and the landlord could not collect rent.

What are zoning regulations and what impact can they have?

Zoning regulations are important for many reasons and are important to understand but you may have questions and wonder what they are. In general, zoning laws govern the use of property; including land use; the height and size of buildings; property uses; the character and development of the property; parking requirements; population density; and the placement of signs.

Zoning approval is required for new construction and in a variety of other circumstances. The use of a property must conform to the zoning laws regulating it. It is important to be familiar with what zoning laws are, how they impact your property and ways that it might be possible to change them if necessary. To appeal a decision that a project does not conform to applicable zoning laws in Philadelphia, an appeal petition can be filed and a request for a variance can be made before the Zoning Board.

Saving your home from foreclosure: having a good lawyer helps

Losing the family home to foreclosure is a nightmare that still haunts many middle and lower class families in Philadelphia. When the housing bubble burst in 2008, banks scrambled to clear their books of questionable residential real estate loans by aggressively foreclosing on loans that were delinquent. While the acute crisis of 2008 has passed, people who have lost their jobs or incurred unexpected expenses such as large medical bills are still struggling to make their regular monthly mortgage payments. A notice of foreclosure can arrive out of the blue, and with it, a feeling of utter helplessness.

Many people in this situation often abandon hope and walk away from their homes, but a consultation with an experienced real estate attorney can often mean the difference between losing the home and finding a solution that postpones foreclosure until a family recovers from financial difficulty.

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