MEDIA COURTHOUSE — Clifton Heights Borough has initiated its own civil suit against the Upper Darby School District in the latest legal wrangling between the two governing bodies to build a school on a portion of district-owned land in the borough.
Borough Solicitor Frank Catania filed a declaratory judgment suit at the county courthouse on Aug. 7, asking a judge to rule that the borough council and borough planning commission review the school district’s land development application under four borough ordinances adopted in late May and the county’s 2016 subdivision and land development ordinance (SALDO). The borough ordinances, numbers 867 to 870, amended borough code that would make it more difficult for the district to build a planned 160,000 square foot middle school and new athletic fields on over 13 acres of land on North Springfield Road in the Residential Conservation District (RCD)-zoned portion of the borough.
District officials say the ordinances were deliberately changed and that many of them specifically target the district as the only organization looking to build up that land and/or put a school on it.
The district submitted its land development application to the borough on May 23, and the ordinances were adopted by borough council on May 28.
“To remove the uncertainty and/or controversy and to enable the borough to review the application under the Delaware County 2016 Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance and under the borough ordinances of 867, 868, 869, and 870 the issue of which ordinances the borough should use must be resolved before the borough is required to review and act on the applications,” read a portion of the complaint filed by Catania.
The borough must act on the application within 90 following the date of the regular meeting of borough council, “a very short specific period of time considering the unresolved legal issues and incompleteness and deficiencies found in the defendant’s application.”
The case docket did not list which judge is assigned to the case and will issue a judgment.
Filing of the suit came one week before Clifton Heights and Upper Darby School District are due in court for a pretrial conference before county Judge Barry Dozor for a civil land development appeal filed by the district to address allegedly deficiencies by the borough of statutory procedures of notice and enactment of zoning and land development ordinances under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code. In a press release announcing the district’s filing of their case on June 27, the borough’s provisions, “appear designed to attempt to thwart the district’s proposed development of a new school” and rushed to pass the ordinances without proper notification for ordinance 869 and provide comment for ordinance 870 to the county planning commission prior to enactment.
The ordinances in question in both cases are summarized as follows:
Ordinance 867 amends the borough’s SALDO to include an "impact statements required" section for land development applicants to submit impact statements for market analysis, environmental impact analysis, traffic study impact and community and fiscal impact analysis.
Ordinance 868 removed a by-right use of the RCD-zoned land to allow a school to be built without council approval.
Ordinance 869 amends language in eight specific sections of Chapter 340 that includes limiting the permitted height of structures from three stories or 35 feet down to one story or 12 feet in the RCD Zoning district.
and Ordinance 870 which amends the borough’s SALDO from the county SALDO of 1978 to the county SALDO of 2016.
The district also argues in their suit that the borough failed to hold a “public hearing” on any of these ordinances before enactment.
Catania could not say Friday how the declaratory judgment suit he filed may affect Wednesday’s pre-trial conference.
District spokeswoman Aaronda Beauford said the district will continue to move forward with the goal of building the school on their property and will work with the borough to do so.
In addition to these suits, the district formally ends this month a decades-long lease agreement with Clifton that allowed the borough to use the land for its community events and sports programs. Clifton residents have been rallying against the district's plans saying they're building up on sacred ground and the borough's last open space.