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Northeast Land Development, LLC v. City of Scranton

July 27, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court for disposition are the parties' respective motions for summary judgment (Docs. 35, 40). The motions have been briefed and are ripe for disposition.


This case stems from a land development dispute between Plaintiff Northeast Land Development, LLC ("NE Land") and Defendant the City of Scranton ("the City"). Because the intricacies of the City of Scranton's land development process greatly inform the court's analysis, below, a synopsis of the relevant provisions is appropriate.

The first step in the land development process in the City of Scranton is the Application for Subdivision or Land Development. (Application Form for Subdivision or Land Development (Doc. 41-37); Doc. 42 ¶ ¶ 58, 59). Following the application, a developer submits a Preliminary Plan, which requires the approval of the City Planning Commission and the City Engineer. (Id.) After these approvals, a developer submits a Final Plan for approval by the Scranton City Planning Commission. (Id. ¶ 60). Finally, the developer must enter into a Development Agreement with the City of Scranton. (Id. ¶ 62).

The statutory mechanics underlying the process are as follows: The City of Scranton Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance of 1996 ("Development Ordinance"), codified at Chapter 423 of the Code of Ordinances for the City of Scranton ("City Code"), prohibits land development unless the development follows the provisions of that chapter.

SCRANTON, PA., CODE OF ORDINANCES ("CITY CODE") ch. 423, art. II, § 423-4(A) (1996), available at (last accessed as of the date of this opinion). Section 423-(4)(B) requires that Final Plans be approved and recorded before any subdivision is developed. CITY CODE ch. 423, art. IV, § 423-4(B). That section also requires that, in accordance with section 423-41, the City either (1) be given "adequate financial security," or (2) that any required improvements to the land be completed in advance. CITY CODE ch. 423, art. IX, § 423-41. Section 43(A)(1) of the Development Ordinance states:

All applicants proposing any subdivision or land development which provides for the installation of improvements required by this chapter or any improvements or amenities which appear on the final plan shall be required to enter into a legally binding development agreement with the city prior to recording the final plan....*fn1 CITY CODE ch. 423, art. IX, § 423-41(A)(1).

Thus, a developer cannot construct a subdivision before he has recorded an approved Final Plan and the City can require the developer to enter into a Development Agreement before recording his approved Final Plan.

Section 423-4(C) states that only "landowners," including equitable landowners or the landowners' agents, can apply for approval of a development plan. CITY CODE ch. 423, art. IV, §423-4(C). A landowner, in turn, is defined in section 423-21 as "[t]he owner of a legal or equitable interest in land, including the holder of a formal option or contract to purchase (whether or not such option or contract is subject to any condition)... or other person having a proprietary interest in land." CITY CODE ch. 423, art. IV, § 423-21. Similarly, an applicant is defined as "[a] landowner or developer who has filed an application for a subdivision or land development, including his/her heirs, successors and assignees." Id.

Section 423-33(F)(1) of the Development Ordinance provides that it is the Planning Commission which renders a "decision" on a Development Plan. CITY CODE ch. 423, art. VII, §423-33(F)(1). Section 423-43(B) of the Development Ordinance states:

The development agreement shall be acceptable in legal form to the City Solicitor and shall be acceptable in content to the governing body. The city may require that a development agreement to include any of the following items, where applicable, and such additional items as are necessary to carry out this chapter:

1. The construction depicted on the approved plans, listed in itemized format....

2. A work schedule....

3. The provision of a performance guarantee for completion of required improvements....

4. Provisions concerning the developer's responsibilities for damage to other property, including maintenance by the developer of public liability insurance for the duration of improvements construction [sic], with a hold harmless clause to protect the city from liability related to such work. A copy or other evidence of such liability coverage shall be provided to the city prior to such work.

5. Provisions requiring that the applicant and/or other responsible entities ensure that erosion sedimentation and stormwater management plans are complied with.

6. Provisions for the dedication of streets, water and sewer lines....

7. See § 423-49 concerning the requirement for a record plan.

8. Provisions for the developer to re- imburse the city for all reasonable engineering costs directly related to the review, construction and inspection of the proposed development and to the ...

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