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Pennsylvania apartment development caught in zoning debate

8/12/2011 | Real Estate Blog

Due to changes in the economy and in the real estate market, many homebuilders and developers are seeing decreased demand for new single-family homes. At the same time, demand for rental housing is increasing. Responding to this change, many builders and developers are focusing their efforts on building high-density apartments and rental housing.

However, many Pennsylvania communities have strict zoning laws that regulate how and where developers can build rental housing. In order to build, some developers have needed to request a change to these zoning laws.

Recently, a proposed low-income apartment project suffered a setback in Scranton. The developer behind the project, Delaware Valley Development, would like to build 76 rental units on 11 acres of real estate in the Minooka neighborhood. However, if the city council has its way, the property in question will no longer be zoned for apartments.

Presently zoned neighborhood commercial, which would allow apartments, the city council voted to change the zoning classification for the area to medium-density residential, which would not allow apartments. The city council’s vote came in response to vocal opposition to the development from Minooka neighborhood groups.

This month, Mayor Chris Doherty vetoed the zoning change. In a letter explaining his veto, Mayor Doherty stated his believe that the recent ordinance violates several laws, including Scranton’s Administrative Code, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the federal Fair Housing Act. Noting that federal law requires the city to promote fair housing, Mayor Doherty believes the change would put the city at risk of losing state and federal funds.

However, the city council unanimously voted for the zoning change and a member of the council has publicly stated that the council intends to override the mayor’s veto.

Source: The Scranton Times-Tribune, “Scranton mayor vetoes legislation for zoning change,” Josh Mrozinski, Aug. 5, 2011