Vacating Streets in PennsylvaniaOctober 5, 2015 – Articles In the Zone
Developers may encounter public or private streets running through land on areas where it wishes to build or provide open space. This is especially true when developing a number of adjacent parcels with roads traversing in between the parcels. In Pennsylvania, in order to remove the street and develop the land over it, the street must be properly vacated by the municipality in which it lies.
Pursuant to the Pennsylvania Borough Code, 8 Pa.C.S.A. § 101, et seq., a borough has the authority, by ordinance, to vacate or close any street or portion of a street previously opened or laid out in the borough. It can do so on its own volition or by petition of any owner of property abutting the street to be vacated.
When a petition is filed, the borough council shall hold a hearing following at least 15 days’ notice to the owners of abutting real estate not joining in the petition and at least 15 days’ notice in a newspaper of general circulation.
After the hearing, the borough council will either move to deny the petition or vacate the street by ordinance. If vacated by ordinance, the borough shall append to or reference in the ordinance a map or survey of the vacated street and a list of the owners of abutting properties. The ordinance must be authorized for advertisement at a public meeting and published once a week for two successive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation, with the second publication being at least 10 days, but not more than 30 days, prior to enactment of the ordinance.
A borough is unable to vacate a street or portion of a street if it provides the sole means of access to any lot or tract of land, unless those to whom access would therefore be denied consent to the vacation of the street. It is important to note that the vacation of a street terminates the public right in or to the street, but does not affect the private right of any owner of abutting property. These private rights may be terminated by written agreement of such owner, however.
Once an ordinance is passed and the 30-day appeal period has run, the borough will execute deeds conveying the vacated area to the owners of the abutting property, with each owner taking to the center line of the vacated street where their property abuts.
First and Second Class Townships
The street vacation procedures under the First Class Township Code, 53 P.S. § 55101, et seq. and the Second Class Township Code, 53 P.S. § 65101, et seq. are similar to those under the Borough Code. The board of commissioners of a first class township may vacate a street or portion thereof either upon petition of a majority in interest of abutting property owners or in its own judgment for public convenience. This includes the ability to vacate a public street that has been unopened for a period of 30 years.
The board shall give 10 days’ notice to any affected property owners of a hearing on the petition or proposed vacation. Upon approval of the vacation, the board shall file a written report with a draft or survey of the vacated street and the names of the abutting property owners. Any citizen of the township may file exceptions to the report along with a petition for review within 30 days after filing of the report.
In a second class township, the board of supervisors must act on a petition to vacate a road within 60 days of filing. If the board fails to do so, the petitioners may present their petition to the court of common pleas.
If the board denies the petition to vacate, the petitioners may then petition the court of common pleas for appointment of viewers under the General Road Law within 30 days of the denial.
Before passing an ordinance vacating the street, whether by petition or on its own volition, the board must give 10 days’ written notice of the hearing on the proposed ordinance to the owners of property adjacent to the street. If the ordinance is enacted, the board must file a copy with a draft or survey of the road showing the location and width thereof. Any resident or owner affected by the ordinance has 30 days after enactment to file exception to the ordinance with a petition for review.
When a developer wishes to build over streets or roads running through or adjacent to its land, it is important to have the street or road properly vacated by the municipality to prevent any future claims of right in and to the vacated street or road. Developers should attempt to work with any adjacent property owners to have them join in or consent to the petition to the board in order to prevent opposition to the vacation.