Introducing and Amending Local Rules

Protective language can be added to the zoning code through community action and organizing.  Through collaborative efforts you can help convince your neighbors and local authorities that protecting residents through zoning is a wise thing to do.

When thinking about introducing protective language, it would be beneficial to think about what you hope to protect most – what is most at risk to be lost by the development – and develop a cohesive approach. You may ask if the fracking development and operation will affect the quiet solitude of your home. Maybe the concern is losing fresh air, or that the well pad may take too much water and impact fish, wildlife, or water quality.
At this point, talk with neighbors or your local government about your concerns to understand if some or all of the concern is shared. If your government has a land use planner on staff, talk with that person to see how your concern has legal grounding and can be incorporated into local ordinances. 
If your municipality does not have planners on staff, then there may be a local organization with a mutual interest that does have access to professionals that can help. This may take the form as watershed or environmental organizations. Even if not staffed with professionals that can help directly, they may have the resources to put you in contact with people that can help with environmental due diligence or draft language for the ordnance. Review this PA Watershed Directory to see if there’s a watershed organization near you:

If you have:

  1. Looked at your local and/or county zoning plan and found it does not protect the issues you are concerned about;
  2. Established that more protective language would be useful;
  3. Consulted with community members, certified professionals such as land use planners;
  4. Identified some specific opportunities to incorporate protective language; and
  5. Used professionals such as attorneys, land use planners, or other experts to help you draft language....

Then you may want to begin the process of updating your zoning ordinance.

Determining the type of protective language you want to introduce will determine your first step. Let’s say you’ve established that your township is a perfect candidate for a Historical Resources overlay (this would be protective because proposed development would need to show that it would protect the historic integrity of the neighborhood, which fracking would not.) 

If your area already has zoning you would introduce the overlay as an amendment to the existing zoning scheme. You would submit the proposal and follow the timeline set forth in section 609 of the PA Municipal Planning Code for Enactment of Zoning Ordinance Amendments.

On the other hand, if you wished to create zoning in a township that has no zoning then you would be introducing a new rule.  Although the process for introducing an ordinance and the process for amending an ordinance have many similarities - such as public notification requirements and opportunities for public comment - it is important to be sure you are familiar with the correct, specific requirements.  

Also, depending on the protective language you wish to implement, you may have to submit the application to different places.  For example: if you wished to rezone an area you would first submit that proposal to your local Board of Commissioners, whereas other types of proposals may need to be submitted to a planning commission or your Zoning Hearing Board first. This is explored more in “Understanding the Land Use Permitting Process

Ultimately, the PA Municipal Planning Code (MPC) and your own township's rules determine the process that you will need to undertake in order to introduce or amend protective language.

The following sections of the MPC are some of the most important to be familiar with:

It is important to follow the MPC and your township's rules very closely.  If you or your municipality skips or forgets a step it very likely means you have to start over and undo or redo a lot of your hard work.


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