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Society Hill Towers Owners Ass'n v. Rendell

ELR Citation: 30 ELR 20553
Nos. No. 98-1937, 210 F.3d 168/(3d Cir., 04/17/2000)

The court holds that a district court properly granted summary judgment to the city of Philadelphia on residents' Administrative Procedure Act (APA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) claims that the city did not properly perform environmental and historic review or provide meaningful public hearings in connection with a grant the city received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for partial funding of a development project. The city initially intended to build a festival park, but it then amended the proposal by abandoning the festival park concept and proposing instead to build a hotel and garage. At the suggestion of HUD, the city withdrew its request for the amendment and then, after conducting public hearings, submitted a virtually identical request for an amendment, which was approved.

The court first holds that the residents have standing. They alleged a concrete and particularized injury in the form of increased traffic, pollution, and noise that will detrimentally impact the ambience of their historic neighborhood and their use and enjoyment of the waterfront. Further, the injury alleged would directly result from construction of the proposed project, and the injury may be redressed if the city is required to evaluate more fully the environmental and historic impacts of the proposed project. The court next holds that the city's decision to forgo an environmental impact statement was not arbitrary or capricious under the APA. The city did not ignore the concerns of the residents. Rather, it withdrew a defective application, cured the defect by conducting public hearings, and then resubmitted the application. The court also holds that the city's environmental assessment (EA) was not defective for its failure to consider the impact of possible future developments in the area. It is not at all certain that the proposed developments will ever be completed. Moreover, the hotel and garage project and the proposed developments are not sufficiently interdependent. The court further holds that the city's finding of no significant impact (FONSI) was not arbitrary or capricious for rejecting an alternative location for the project. NEPA only requires that appropriate alternatives be considered and does not mandate that any particular alternative be selected during an EA. In addition, the court holds that the controversial nature of the project does not render the city's decision to issue a FONSI arbitrary and capricious. The residents failed to raise a substantial dispute regarding the environmental effects identified by the city in its EA for the project. Last, the court holds that the residents waived their claims that findings of no impact under the NHPA were erroneous. The court, therefore, affirms the district court's grant of summary judgment on these claims.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (30 pp., ELR Order No. L-217).

Counsel for Appellants
M. Melvin Shralow
White & Williams
One Liberty Pl., Ste. 1800, Philadelphia PA 19103
(215) 864-6270

Counsel for Appellees
Steven A. Arbittier
Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll
1735 Market St., 51st Fl., Philadelphia PA 19103
(215) 665-8500