Zoning Litigation on Oil and Gas Development

At a hearing in January, attorney Dwight Ferguson spoke on behalf of three Robinson Township families who complained that a zoning amendment opened more areas to natural gas drilling.
Three couples from Bulger are appealing the Robinson Township zoning hearing board’s decision in January that tossed out their challenge of the township’s oil and gas zoning law.
Attorney Dwight Ferguson filed the appeal Friday in Washington County Court on behalf of Christopher and Cathy Lodge, Nolan and Brenda Vance and Richard and Irene Barrie.
The three families challenged the township’s zoning amendment, which was passed by the board of supervisors last August, on the grounds it contradicted the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in the Act 13 case and implemented “pro-drilling zoning changes,” according to their appeal. The zoning hearing board dismissed two separate challenges on procedural grounds, ruling the parties did not have standing or “ripeness to proceed” with the challenge.
The appellants argue the zoning hearing board erred in its determination.
They are asking the court to reverse that decision and hold a hearing on the merits of the challenge, or to send it back to the zoning hearing board.
Gretchen Moore, solicitor for Robinson Township, said she will continue to defend the township’s position in Washington County Court.
“We stand by our position set forth before the Robinson Township Zoning Hearing Board that the validity challenges lack merit for a variety of reasons,” Moore said.
The board ruled the three families did not have standing because they “only present generalized interests common to the entire township’s population,” the appeal stated.
But the appeal maintains the three families have a direct interest as landowners, and also because four of the six appellants own property that was rezoned into different districts when the amendment passed.
The appellants also argued any challenge of the constitutionality of an ordinance is considered ripe, or ready for adjudication.
The appellants claim the board of supervisors, in passing the zoning amendment, attempted to achieve the same goal as the statewide Act 13 law of 2012 that was deemed unconstitutional, in part, by the state Supreme Court.
“Essentially, the township, under a new pro-oil and gas regime, endeavored to enact the same type of legislation locally that the Supreme Court had just declared unconstitutional statewide,” the appeal stated.
“Rather than amending the prior zoning ordinance to conform to the Supreme Court’s decision, the new supervisors vastly expanded the areas in which oil and gas development and facilities were permitted uses … or conditional uses and reduced or removed restrictions and requirements pertaining to such development and facilities.”

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