Are Building Moratoriums Actually a Thing?

The sinkhole along Butler Pike in Plymouth Meeting has led to a few people calling for a moratorium on building in that area of Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships.

We wondered if that is actually something that is possible or just a unrealistic goal.

A quick search of Google shows that moratoriums have been used to slow down development.

Golden City, CO (from the

The Golden City Council vote to implement a four-month moratorium on large residential developments in Golden passed unanimously on March 21. Council member Saoirse Charis-Graves was absent.

The purpose of the moratorium is to allow Planning Commission and city staff time to review “potential amendments to the Golden Municipal Code that seek to address the bulk, mass, scale and design concerns” of potential new development, states city documents.

It was prompted by Golden residents voicing concerns about large development projects not matching with neighborhood character.

From Alabaster, AL (from

Alabaster’s home-building market is seeing the effects of the city’s yearlong moratorium on new housing development along the Alabama 119 corridor, as the number of new homes built in the city so far this year is down significantly from last year.

In August 2018, the Alabaster City Council voted to enact the yearlong moratorium in an effort to address traffic congestion along the Alabama 119 corridor.

Obviously the above cases are from different states and the moratoriums weren’t driven by sinkholes. We looked for incidents of moratoriums put in place specifically due to sinkholes.

This isn’t a perfect example, but a giant sinkhole in New Mexico led to a development moratorium in the sinkhole’s vicinity. We found others, but they all involved drilling or mining, which isn’t the cause locally.

During our research process, we kept trying to find specific cases in Pennsylvania. What we found is that Pennsylvania law does not look favorably on moratoriums.

In 2001, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Pennsylvania’s Municipal Planning Code does not allow subdivision and land development moratoriums to be put in place when a municipality revises its related ordinances.

This 2004 lawsuit involving a 1998 moratorium ordinance (enacted prior to the above case) in a Pennsylvania township, refers to the above case (we believe). From

Although a municipality is no longer permitted to enact a moratorium on development, at the time Ordinance 1998-4 was enacted it represented a reasonable exercise of the Township’s authority.

While mainly involving Michigan law, this article is very clear and concise on the overall moratorium issue. If pushing a moratorium in Plymouth and Whitemarsh is something you want to consider, you should read it.

Please don’t consider this authoritative on the topic.