Will the New Zoning Code Really Streamline the Development Process?

May 2012Articles In the Zone

This ongoing article series will explore Philadelphia’s new zoning code.

On August 22, 2012, the new Zoning Code for the City of Philadelphia will go into effect. It has been said that the new Zoning Code is developer friendly in that it streamlines the development process. However, having had an opportunity to review the new procedures set forth in the new Zoning Code, I question whether it will in fact streamline the process. Instead, it appears as though the new Zoning Code will add another layer, or two, of necessary review in obtaining zoning approvals. Such additional review could further delay the approval process.

Currently, a developer can obtain a byright Zoning/Use Registration Permit (Zoning Permit) in as little as five days; whereas, under the new Zoning Code, it could take up to 120 days. Not only will it take longer to obtain a by-right Zoning Permit, but a developer may also be required to receive public comment on a by-right project. The new Zoning Code now requires certain projects to be reviewed by the Civic Design Review Committee (CDRC). If a by-right project is subject to the Civic Design Review, the developer must also review the project with the Registered Community Organization (RCO).

After an applicant submits an Application for Zoning/Use Registration Permit with the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I), L&I will complete its review and notify the applicant, within 30 days, whether the project is subject to review by the CDRC (L&I Notice). If it is, the applicant is
required to notify the RCO that the project is subject to review by the CDRC within seven days after it receives the L&I Notice. The applicant is then required to meet with the RCO to review the project and submit documentation to the CDRC, within 45 days after the L&I Notice, documenting the meeting with the RCO. The CDRC is not required to review a project until it receives the meeting documentation from the RCO and applicant, or 45 days after the L&I Notice, whichever is earlier. After the applicant reviews the project with the RCO, it then reviews the project with the CDRC. The CDRC’s meetings are open to the public. Agendas will be published online in advance of each meeting. Within 45 days after its initial meeting (the CDRC can review a project at up to two meetings), the CDRC is required to submit is recommendations for the proposed project to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission then posts the recommendations of the CDRC on its website. After the CDRC issues its recommendations, the applicant can obtain its Zoning Permit from L&I.

What an applicant might find most frustrating is that, although the above review procedure with the RCO and CDRC is mandatory, the recommendations of the CDRC are only advisory. Therefore, after meeting with the RCO and CDRC, the applicant could decide to disregard the comments it received from both committees and obtain its Zoning Permit as it initially proposed — but not until after waiting at least 90 days.

Next month, more information will be provided regarding when a project is subject to review by the CDRC and the CDRC review process. Should you have any questions regarding zoning related matters in Philadelphia, please feel free to contact Fox Rothschild.