Unjustified prohibition on building septic tanks on plots of land covered by the zoning plan

Reasons cited for granting planning authority to the municipalities include the need to ensure consistency in spatial order and to provide the municipality with the possibility to effectively perform their own tasks as assigned by the Act on Municipal Self-Government. For example, when designating areas for housing development in their plans, municipalities take into account the need to provide roads, health care or education for future residents who will occupy the new land designated for development. This is one of the reasons why development restrictions must exist and the owner cannot always develop the property as he/she wishes.

The Act on spatial planning and development, however, requires the municipal council to balance both the public interest and the interest of the property owner.

This provision is indicated right at the beginning of the Act in Article 1. It lists a number of elements that are taken into account in spatial planning and development. These include:

– requirements of spatial order, including urban planning and architecture,

– architectural and landscape values,

– environmental protection requirements, including water management and agricultural and forestry land protection,

– ownership rights,

– public interest needs,

– the need to ensure appropriate quantity and quality of water for the purposes of supplying the population,

and it was indicated that it is necessary precisely to weigh public interest and private interests – without favouring any of those interests.

The legislator also distinguished elements that should be taken into account when locating new development in the plan, these are, in particular

– locating new residential development in a manner that allows residents to make maximum use of public mass transit as their primary means of transportation,

– providing spatial solutions, facilitating the movement of pedestrians and cyclists.

The provision was thus constructed in such a way as to give the municipal council the possibility to influence, among others, the increase or decrease in the number of residents. As it has already been pointed out, it is important for the municipality to provide infrastructure according to the population that resides there.

Often both commercial investors and small owners do not want to accept the designation of their property in the plan and feel hurt because they cannot dispose of their property in any way they want.

In the following articles I will analyze the jurisprudence of administrative courts concerning the limits of planning authority. I will show how differently the courts approach some issues in order to be almost completely unanimous in others. I will also explain when an investor has a chance to obtain a planning provision in line with his wishes, and when such chance is slim.

We will start with the Supreme Administrative Court ruling of 25 November 2020

(ref. II OSK 791/190).  The case concerned a complaint against a local law zoning which changed the existing zoning plan in such a way that for a part of the geodesic area specified in the local law, it was stated that in the absence of a sanitary sewer system, until such a system is built, sewage may be disposed of only to the existing septic tanks. After the complaint was dismissed by the Voivodship Administrative Court, the case was referred to the Supreme Administrative Court. The  SAC, in contrast to the Voivodship Administrative Court, stated that taking into account the justification of the local law, the plan should be interpreted in such a way that it prohibits the construction of septic tanks and “since no suitable facilities exist in this area and at the same time there is no possibility of building new facilities, the applicant was deprived of the possibility to discharge sewage. The applicant’s right to property, under which he has the right to construct the necessary sewage disposal facilities on his property, was thereby restricted.”

It was further pointed out that:

– ‘the municipal council violated the principles for drawing up the local plan by abusing its planning authority, resulting in a restriction of the applicant’s property right,

the council failed to indicate the circumstances justifying the imposition of a ban on the construction of new sealed septic tanks in the entire area belonging to the applicant in a situation where this area is deprived both of access to the collective sanitary sewage system and of access to the existing sealed septic tanks.

It was also pointed out that “the essence of the operation of the principle of balancing the opposing interests is based on the correct implementation of two elements of this principle: the balancing of interests and the result of the balancing. If the balancing of interests has not taken place or the rule of domination of any of the interests has been unjustifiably adopted – this principle is violated. Therefore, when interfering in the sphere of private interests of the owners, the municipal council should unconditionally follow the principle of proportionality understood as the prohibition of excessive, in relation to the protected values, interference in the sphere of rights and freedoms of individuals”.

The SAC judgment allows us to state that the municipal council, when determining the content of the plan when resolving the conflict of public and private interests, should each time analyze in detail the effect of the violation of each of these interests and justify its position. It should be concluded that in this case the prohibition of construction of new septic tanks was found to be unjustified as it infringed unjustifiably on private interest, moreover, the local law did not indicate justification of such decision and its advisability in terms of public interest.