Under the new law, governmental entities (including zoning hearing boards, planning commissions and governing bodies) are permitted to conduct public meetings and hearings remotely through authorized telecommunications devices during the pendency of the COVID-19 emergency declaration that was issued by Governor Wolf on March 6, 2020. Prior to the enactment of Senate Bill No. 841, there was uncertainty as to whether remote public meetings satisfied the requirements of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act and other applicable laws. Senate Bill No. 841 provides explicit legal authority for these governmental entities to hold meetings and hearings using authorized telecommunications devices and to satisfy quorum requirements. Advance notice of the remote meetings must be provided on the governmental entity’s website and in a newspaper of general circulation and must include the date, time, and technology to be used for the remote meeting. The governmental entity must also allow for public participation in the remote meetings, to the extent practicable, using the authorized telecommunications device or through the submission of written or e-mailed comments. This is a significant development that allows pending zoning and land development applications that had been stalled following the COVID-19 emergency declaration to move forward.
Senate Bill No. 841 also suspended and tolled certain timeframes for municipal action with respect to zoning and land use applications that were pending as of the date of the COVID-19 emergency declaration (March 6, 2020) until 30 days after the effective date of Senate Bill No. 841 (May 20, 2020). This portion of the new law affects zoning hearing board, conditional use, subdivision and land development applications that were pending as of March 6, 2020. The governmental entity is required to provide an applicant with notice of the new deadlines governing an affected application. Within 30 days of the effective date of Senate Bill No. 841, an applicant may request that the governmental entity hold the required meeting or hearing with respect to the subject application using an authorized telecommunications device in accordance with Senate Bill No. 841. In making the request for such a meeting, the applicant (and any other party receiving actual notice of the meeting) are deemed to have waived any challenge or objection to the notice, conduct or participation in the meeting under the Sunshine Act or other applicable law.
The zoning and land use attorneys at Klehr Harrison have already participated in and received development approvals through remote public meetings. Our zoning and land use attorneys can assist you in understanding the applicable deadlines related to your project and in navigating through the remote approval process during the COVID-19 emergency declaration.
The Coronavirus Task Force at Klehr Harrison stands ready to assist you in your business and legal needs. We will continue to provide additional information and guidance as the COVID-19 situation develops.
Author Matthew McHugh is an associate in the Real Estate & Finance Department at Klehr Harrison.