PA Court of Appeals Finds Competing Hotel Owners Have No Right to Challenge Zoning Board Decisions

This post was written by Gabriella Mickel, 2024 JD candidate, Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University

In this case, the owner of a competing hotel, South Bethlehem Associates, LP, challenged the Bethlehem Township Pennsylvania Zoning Board’s decision to grant Central PA Equities 30, LLC a variant for the new hotel development two blocks apart. The main issue at hand is whether the competing hotel owners have the legal standing to seek a review of the zoning board’s decision.

The court noted that normally, standing requires showing adverse effect, reflecting “a substantial, direct, and immediate interest in the matter”. The court then clarified that the standards are broader for local administrative processes. In this case, the court interpreted the relevant provisions of the MPC to determine the level of judicial appeal in zoning matters.

The court examined the MPC provisions and concluded that while standing before the local zoning council may have been more extensive, the prerequisites for an appeal to a court, as outlined in Article XA of the MPC, were not explicitly specified. The court found that the legislature most likely intended for the court to stand for review per the court’s traditional understanding of the concept. It is also stressed that the position requires legally enforceable interests affected by the matter in question and that interests based solely on market competition do not meet this requirement.

The court ruled that a party, such as a competing hotel owner, who appears before the zoning board can only appeal an adverse decision to the court if that party meets the traditional criteria for judicial standing. As such, competing hotel owners have no right to bring legal action against the zoning board’s decision.

South Bethlehem Associates, LP v Bethlehem Township Zoning Hearing Council, 2023 WL 3471359 (PA 16/5/2023)

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