Whitehall Manor, Inc. and Linden 515, LP, Appellants
The Planning Commission of The City of Allentown, City of Allentown, Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone Development Authority, and Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority
Argued: September 13, 2013
BEFORE: HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge
PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge
In this land use appeal, Whitehall Manor, Inc. (Whitehall Manor) and Linden 515, LP (Linden 515) (collectively, Objectors) ask whether the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County (trial court) erred in affirming a decision of the City of Allentown Planning Commission (Commission) that granted conditional approval of the preliminary and final land development plans submitted by the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority (Applicant). The land development plans contemplate development of, among other things, an arena and events center in downtown Allentown.
Objectors challenge the trial court's determination that they lacked standing to appeal the Commission's conditional approval of the land development plans. They also contend the Commission erred or abused its discretion in approving the plans. For the reasons that follow, we conclude the trial court erred in determining Objectors lacked standing to appeal the Commission's decision. However, we affirm the trial court's determination that no error is apparent in the Commission's conditional approval of Applicant's plans.
Whitehall Manor has a leasehold interest in a parcel located at 12 North Seventh Street, Allentown. Linden 515 is the owner of real property located at 515 Linden Street, Allentown. Abraham Atiyeh is the principal of both Whitehall Manor and Linden 515.
Applicant is a corporate body organized pursuant to Article XVI-B of the Fiscal Code,  with its primary place of business located at 435 Hamilton Street, Allentown.
In February 2012, Applicant submitted an application and preliminary and final land development plans to the City of Allentown Bureau of Planning and Zoning. The plans proposed development of an arena, a hotel, offices and a parking facility on a 5.34-acre, one city block area of downtown Allentown. Thereafter, the City's Director of Planning, Bureau of Planning and Zoning, issued two review letters, containing comments on engineering, planning, traffic, parks, and zoning.
About a month later, the Commission held a public meeting on Applicant's development plans. During the meeting, Objectors' representative attended and voiced opposition to the development plans. At the close of the meeting, the Commission voted to approve Applicant's preliminary and final land development plans, subject to certain conditions. The next day, the Commission's conditional approval was confirmed by letter. Objectors filed a land use appeal with the trial court.
Through their appeal, Objectors asserted that the Commission did not adhere to the law and abused its discretion. Objectors raised numerous issues in support of their appeal. The City and Applicant intervened in opposition to Objectors' appeal.
Without taking additional evidence, the trial court affirmed the Commission's conditional approval of the preliminary and final land development plans. The trial court first determined Objectors lacked standing to appeal the Commission's decision. Specifically, the trial court stated, based on the record developed before the Commission, there was no evidence that Objectors' properties would be aggrieved by the implementation of the development plans. Further, Objectors had the opportunity to develop a record before the trial court regarding their claims of aggrievement, yet failed to do so.
The trial court also rejected Objectors' assertion that Applicant waived its right to challenge Objectors' standing. The trial court stated that Objectors were not granted party status before the Commission. Rather, Objectors' representative merely attended the Commission's meeting and voiced his concerns about the development plans. Because the meeting was open to the public and because Objectors' representative made no effort to join Objectors as parties to the proceedings before the Commission, the trial court stated it would be "nonsensical" for Applicant or the Commission to raise a standing challenge at the meeting. Tr. Ct., Slip Op., 12/14/12, at 7. "There is no requirement in law that [Applicant] raise a standing challenge against [Objectors] before the Commission as a prerequisite to raising a standing challenge on appeal." Id. Thus, the trial court dismissed Objectors' appeal for lack of standing.
Nevertheless, assuming Objectors had standing, the trial court proceeded to address the substantive issues raised by Objectors. The trial court stated that Objectors raised six ...