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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Has Affirmed Invalidation Of A Local Ordinance Exceeding Requirements Of The Uniform Commercial Code Without Justification

10/25/2012 | Construction Blog

The Uniform Construction Code (UCC) generally preempts and rescinds construction standards provided by statute, local ordinance, or regulation unless the law meets the following four standards:

  1. that certain clear and convincing local climatic, geologic, topographic or public health and safety circumstances or conditions justify the exception;
  2. the exception shall be adequate for the purpose intended and shall meet a standard of performance equal to or greater than that prescribed by the Uniform Construction Code;
  3. the exception would not diminish or threaten the health, safety and welfare of the public; and
  4. the exception would not be inconsistent with the legislative findings and purpose described in section 102.

35 P.S. ยง 7210.503(j)(2).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has examined the first of those factors in Schuylkill Township v. Pennsylvania Builders Association, et al., 607 Pa. 377, 7 A.3d 249 (2010). Schuylkill Township defended the validity of an ordinance that mandated the installation of sprinklers in excess of that required by the UCC. The Township argued to the Department of Labor and Industry that certain local conditions including, population growth, mountainous topography and traffic congestion affected the ability of the volunteer fire department to respond effectively, and that modern construction utilized wooden trusses, which burn rapidly. The Secretary of the Department of Labor and Industry invalidated the Ordinance and Ordered that “[t]he Township failed to establish clear and convincing local climatic, geologic, topographic or public health and safety circumstances and conditions in the Township to justify the enactment of” the Ordinance and opined that the Township’s conditions were not “atypical”.

The Township appealed the decision of the Department of Labor and Industry, which decision was affirmed by the trial court and Commonwealth Court. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed that a township ordinance exceeding the minimum requirements of the UCC should be invalidated in instances where the local circumstances do not differ from the statewide norm such that the conditions justify the exception. While acknowledging that atypicality is not necessarily required to satisfy Section 7210.503(j)(2), the Court reasoned that the legislative intent of the UCC was for uniformity to be the standard, rather than the exception.

An ordinance exceeding the requirements of the UCC will withstand review only if the climatic, geological, and topographical circumstances of the locality justify the additional requirements.