Long-Awaited Vote Simplifies City’s Zoning Code and Eases Development Process for Philadelphia

December 2011Alerts Real Estate Department Alert

A long-awaited day in the Philadelphia development community has finally come. On Dec. 15, 2011, City Council voted to adopt a new zoning code. Mayor Nutter will sign the zoning code bill on Dec. 22.

Philadelphia’s current zoning code was adopted in 1962 with numerous amendments since that time. As a result of the various amendments, the current zoning code has become complex and difficult to understand. Nearly every development or improvement to property, even as minor as a deck, requires relief from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. In the May 2007 Primary, almost 80 percent of voters in Philadelphia approved a ballot question asking whether a Zoning Code Commission should be created to reform and modernize the city’s zoning code. As a result, the Zoning Code Commission was created and charged with the task of re-writing the zoning code.

Over the past four years, the Zoning Code Commission has worked diligently to create a new zoning code, which will become effective in August 2012. The new zoning code is simplified and organized in a way that will make it easier for individuals to develop in the City. Rather than 55 zoning classifications and dozens of overlay districts, the new zoning code identifies only 35 zoning classifications and 12 overlay districts. All of the existing zoning districts will be converted to a new corresponding district. There have not been any substantive changes to the zoning designations. Three new zoning districts were created that do not have existing corresponding districts: CMX-2.5 (Commercial Mixed Use 2.5), IRMX (Industrial Residential Mixed Use) and SP-AIR (Airport Special Purpose District).

The new zoning code has also been modernized by taking into consideration today’s “green” development practices. For example, the new zoning code promotes sustainable development by allowing density bonuses for green buildings and allows for solar collectors, wind turbines and rain harvesting barrels.

The new zoning code also takes into consideration the important role the community plays in the development of the City by implementing a structured process for community participation. The new zoning code creates a city-wide system for registering community organizations. Registered community organizations are notified and given an opportunity to meet with developers of larger projects and projects that require relief from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. In addition, the new zoning code has created a civic design review process, which requires larger developments to be reviewed by a committee and receive public input.

If you have any questions regarding this Alert or other zoning matters in Philadelphia, please contact Carrie B. Nase at 215.299.2030 or [email protected] ; William F. Martin at 215.299.2865 or [email protected] ; or Robert W. Gundlach, Jr. at 215.918.3636 or [email protected] , or any member of Fox Rothschild’s Real Estate Department.

View entire publications (PDF file).