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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Court Dismisses Challenge to Zoning Ordinances

A recent decision by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reminds us of the importance of bringing claims in a timely manner.  In CMR D.N. Corp. v. City of Philadelphia, No. 11-4362 (3rd Cir. January 14, 2013), plaintiff owned waterfront property in a neighborhood situated on the Delaware River.  For two decades, plaintiff attempted to develop a large commercial and residential real estate project on the land.  In 2006, the city adopted an ordinance extending construction restrictions to plaintiff’s property that placed a height restriction on plaintiff’s property, essentially making him unable to construct his proposed project.
Plaintiff sued the city in federal district court, claiming that the ordinance violated both the federal constitution and state law.  Shortly thereafter, the city rescinded the height restriction of the ordinance and sought to dismiss the constitutional claims as moot.  Plaintiff then tried to file an amended complaint to challenge the constitutionality of a width restriction still in effect in the 2006 ordinance.  He also attempted to add an additional claim regarding an ordinance enacted in 2009 that imposed additional requirements on waterfront construction.  He claimed that the 2009 ordinance was unconstitutionally vague for not defining the phrase “development appropriate in scale, density, character, and for use in the surrounding community.”
The district court ruled in favor of the city, finding that the 2009 rescission of the height restriction mooted plaintiff’s constitutional claims, and denying plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint. 
Plaintiff then appealed to the 3rd Circuit, which affirmed the district court.  The 3rd Circuit first held that plaintiff’s challenges to the height restriction were moot after the 2009 rescission because a court cannot strike down a law that is no longer in effect. The court then determined that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave as plaintiff engaged in undue delay in asserting his challenge.  Next, the 3rd Circuit held that the waterfront construction restrictions were not vague as a developer of reasonable intelligence would be able to determine what would be appropriate based on similar structures in the area. 
Post Authored by Erin Baker, Ancel Glink


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