The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recent ruled that the issuance of highway occupancy permit did not cause a “de facto” condemnation of a neighboring property owner. In Ristvey v. Com., Dept. of Transp., the alleged de facto condemnees owned 23 acres of vacant, residentially-zoned land on the eastern side of Pennsylvania State Route 18 in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. PennDOT granted a Highway Occupancy Permit to accommodate a Wal-Mart on property directly across from their property.

The alleged de facto condemnees claimed that the granting of the Permit and the construction required by that Permit caused a “de facto” taking of their property. They claimed that “the issuance of the HOP rendered the Property ‘worthless’ because the ‘stacking’ of cars in the newly configured left turn stand-by lane made it impossible, at times, to safely make a left turn out of the Property. They alleged that DOT’s actions rendered the Property ‘worthless’ and ‘deprive[d] the Plaintiffs-Condemnees [Appellants] of the full and normal use and enjoyment of their property.’”

The trial court ruled that the alleged de facto condemnees did not establish a de facto taking. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. It held “this Court agrees with the trial court that DOT acted pursuant to its police powers, not eminent domain powers, when it required . . . the left turn, stand-by lane in front of the” Wal-Mart property. It further explained, “[i]n this controversy, this Court is unable to conclude that inclusion of the left turn, stand-by lane in front of Appellants’ Property was unreasonable in light of the fact that: (1) the Property was vacant and undeveloped; and (2) the left turn, stand-by lane did not interfere with any existing traffic patterns relative to the Property; and (3) without the left turn, stand-by lane vehicles would have to stop in the traveling lane to wait to turn into the Wal-Mart Store.”