Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. What is zoning?
Zoning seeks to protect public health, safety and welfare by regulating the use of land and controlling the type, size, and height of buildings. Some goals of early zoning codes were to prevent overcrowding and limit incompatible uses. Goals of modern zoning codes include promoting transit-oriented development, pedestrian-friendly commercial corridors, and preservation of the historic fabric of neighborhoods.
Q. What is the Zoning Code?
The zoning code is the law that regulates land use, and the height and size (or bulk) of structures. The code contains land use classifications, such as residential, commercial and industrial, controls that govern the size and height of structures, and parking, signage and landscaping requirements. The Philadelphia Zoning Code is available online. Philadelphia's first zoning code was enacted in 1933. You can read the zoning code here http://www.amlegal.com/library/pa/philadelphia.shtml
Q. What is the Zoning Code?
Philadelphia's first zoning code was enacted in 1933. In the post WWII era of the early 1950s, changes in lifestyles and housing preferences combined with the increasing use and reliance on the automobile meant that the 1933 code no longer met the City's needs and development trends. So, in the mid 1950s, the Mayor established a task force to make recommendations to modernize the Code. And, a new zoning code took effect in 1962. That was the last update.
- As set forth in the City Charter, the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) is responsible for administering the zoning code. L&I reviews zoning applications and issues permits, refusals of permits, and referrals of special exceptions to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).
- The ZBA has the authority to grant variances to the zoning code or to allow special exceptions. An applicant who wishes to obtain a special exception or appeal a refusal in order to obtain a variance from the zoning code must file for a hearing at the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).
- Changes to the zoning text or the zoning map may only be made by City Council ordinance.
- The Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) is charged with making recommendations to the ZBA on specific zoning cases and to City Council on pending ordinances to change the zoning text or zoning map.
Q. What are the Zoning Maps?
When the City's first zoning code was adopted in 1933, a zoning map was also created. Every parcel of land in the City has a zoning classification such as residential, commercial, and industrial. Presently, there are 55 different zoning classifications. The Zoning Maps depict the zoning classification for each parcel. You can view the City's Zoning Maps at http://citymaps.phila.gov/zoningoverlay/.
Q. What is the process for changing the Zoning Maps?
An ordinance must be approved by City Council and signed by the Mayor to change the zoning map. The Planning Commission has developed a community-based process to ensure neighborhood involvement in any remapping effort.
Zoning Code Commission
Q. Why do we need to reform the Zoning Code?
Philadelphia’s first zoning code was enacted in 1933. The last major revision of the code was completed in 1962. Since then, approximately 1,000 piecemeal amendments have made the zoning code an overly complex and burdensome regulatory patchwork. The consequences are development outcomes that are unpredictable and out-of-sync with the land use needs of present day Philadelphia. Population changes, a shift away from heavy manufacturing toward a more diverse employment base, a residential boom and changing lifestyles call for a new, modernized zoning code.
Q. How was the Zoning Code Commission formed?
The Zoning Code Commission was formed by mandate of the citizens of Philadelphia with the overwhelming approval of a ballot question in the May 2007 primary election. Close to 80% of voters elected to create "an independent Zoning Code Commission which would recommend amendments to the Philadelphia Zoning Code to make the Code consistent and easy to understand, and to enhance and improve Philadelphia's city planning process while encouraging development and protecting the character of Philadelphia's neighborhoods." This charter amendment defined the duties, composition, and timetable of the ZCC. The full text of the City Council resolution authorizing the ballot question is available at the following website: http://legislation.phila.gov/attachments/3307.pdf.
Q. Who is on the Zoning Code Commission?
The Commission is comprised of 31 members: three City officials with responsibility for zoning matters; three members of City Council; five representatives of the Chambers of Commerce; ten persons with experience in land use matters, five appointed by the Mayor and five by the Council President; and ten community leaders, one appointed by each district councilmember. For more details see the Zoning Code Commission section on this site.
Q. Who is on the consultant team?
The consultant team of Clarion Associates and Duncan Associates, with extensive experience in zoning reform in U.S. cities, has been charged with evaluating the current zoning code, overseeing community and code-user engagement, providing recommendations for the code rewrite, and implementing the code rewrite. They are assisted in their work by team members Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC, Claflen Associates, CHPlanning, Ltd, Portfolio Associates, Dyett & Bhatia, Hurley-Franks & Associates, and The Vic Group.
Q. What is the status of the Zoning Code Commission's effort?
After over three years of hard work and collaboration among city administrators, developers, architects, planners, attorneys, business representatives and residents, the ZCC produced a draft new zoning code and sent its Preliminary Report to City Council in May 2011 for its review. The new code is designed to be easy to understand, yield predictable development results, encourage high quality and positive development, preserve the character of neighborhoods, and involve the public in development decisions. The latest draft of the zoning code is available on the homepage of the Zoning Matters website. www.zoningmatters.org.This draft gathers together the sign controls that are dispersed throughout the current zoning code into a single chapter (14-900). A comprehensive review of the sign controls is underway and the Zoning Code Commission will send an amendment with additional changes to the sign chapter to City Council in 2012.
Q. What are the steps for adoption?
The Zoning Code Commission sent its Preliminary Report to City Council in May 2011.
- Within 45 days of receiving the code, City Council is required to convene a public hearing to discuss the proposed changes.
- Within 30 days of the close of public hearings, Council may choose to adopt a resolution with recommendations to be incorporated into a revised code.
- Within 60 days of the close of public hearings, whether or not Council has adopted a resolution, the Zoning Code Commission will send its Final Report to City Council.
- Within 60 days or the fifth Council meeting (whichever is later) after receiving the revised code from the Zoning Code Commission, Council must adopt, reject, or table the proposed code.
A full account of the role of City Council in adopting the zoning code can be accessed in the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, Section 4-1300.
Q. What is the role of citizens in this process?
The charter amendment that created the Zoning Code Commission calls for a public process in which citizens can stay informed and participate fully, a vision that the Zoning Code Commission has met and exceeded. The Charter requires that the Commission hold two public hearings and that it meet at least ten times during the year. As of June 2011, the Commission has held 47 public meetings, all aired on public television, two public hearings in City Council chambers, 36 community-based meetings; seven Stakeholder X-Changes, two public meetings to discuss why the Commission adopted, rejected, or modified a group’s proposal, and attended dozens of community meetings where it has explained the Commission’s work and possible changes to Philadelphia Zoning Code. The Commission has also interviewed 125 professional zoning code users and surveyed nearly 2,000 individuals on components of the proposed new zoning code. The Commission has received hundreds, if not thousands of comments from members of the public about proposed changes to the Zoning Code. City Council is required to hold public hearings on the proposed new code, and Council's action on the code will be by public vote.
Q. What are the Zoning Code Commission's goals for the new code?
The Zoning Code Commission has adopted the following goals as a framework for creating Philadelphia's new zoning code:
- Provide consistency and understandability of the zoning code.
- Make future construction and development more predictable.
- Encourage high quality, positive development.
- Preserve the character of existing neighborhoods.
- Involve the public in development decisions.
Q. What are the overarching changes in the draft zoning code?
- New organization: The Code is better organized and will be easier to navigate. No longer organized by district, there are separate chapters on districts, overlays, uses, dimensional standards, parking, and signage. Code users will know exactly where to look.
- Online version and new use of graphics: The Code makes extensive use of tables, illustrations, and maps. It will be produced in a web-based version that will link you to cross-references, definitions, and amplify particular code sections.
- Community Role in Development Processes: The Code establishes a citywide system for recognizing community organizations, providing notice of significant projects, and convening a neighborhood forum with developers and property owners when projects go before the ZBA. Also, the community will have a chance to provide input on certain as of right projects that are expected to have a significant impact on a community through a new public Civic Design Review process.
- Districts: Most current zoning districts are maintained, but re-named. Some districts that were very similar, or that have never been mapped, are consolidated. Three new districts are created: (a) Commercial Mixed-Use 2.5 (CMX-2.5) intended to support the revitalization of neighborhood commercial areas; (b) Industrial –Residential Mixed Use (IRMX) designed to help neighborhoods that were once manufacturing hubs to transition to mixed use including residential and commercial; and (c) a new Airport District.
- Overlays: The complex and dense matrix of zoning rules for specific areas, also known as “overlays,” has been consolidated, streamlined, and reorganized. The Code includes three “master overlays” – one for Center City; one for Neighborhood Commercial Areas; and one for Neighborhood Conservation areas.
- Uses: Uses are organized by categories and sub-categories; not by each individual use. The Code modernizes uses in preparation for the future and now addresses urban agriculture, solar panels, bed and breakfasts, adult day care and community homes. The ZCC has created a series of maps and tables that illustrate how and where these changes would occur.
- Dimensions: Most of the dimensional standards (lot area, setbacks, height) remain the same. The height limit in residential and low-density commercial districts has been increased from 35 ft. to 38 ft. Many dimensional standards in rowhome neighborhoods would vary according to the context.
- Development Standards: The Code includes state of the art form and design standards for multi-family, institutional, and commercial properties; enhanced landscaping and tree requirements, and better protection for natural resources.
- Parking: The Code reduces automobile parking requirements and, for the first time, includes a maximum number of off-street parking spots that can be provided. It encourages development near transit nodes and promotes walking and cycling.
- A Healthy and Sustainable City: Health and sustainability incentives are integrated in the Code. The Code promotes mixed-used and transit-oriented development and provides incentives for fresh food markets and a density bonus for green building and mixed-income housing.
Q. When will I see a zoning map?
The ZCC has posted a “conversion map” tool on www.zoningmatters.org that shows what the zoning map will look like upon the effective date of the new zoning code. It renames existing zoning districts across the city with the corresponding zoning district name in the new zoning code.
The ZCC has worked with the City Planning Commission to create a ‘Zoning Map Revision Plan’ that describes a two-step remapping process that the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) will implement. Step 1 is the preparation of the conversion map described above. Step 2 was initiated in June 2011, when the PCPC began a District Planning process as the second phase of Philadelphia2035, the Comprehensive Plan. Over a five-year period, 18 district plans will be developed containing recommended land use changes. Subsequent to the district plans, a series of City Council ordinances will be prepared to revise the zoning map in accordance with the district plan recommendations. Step 2 will incorporate community participation at every level.
Q. Will there be a transition period from the old code to the new code?
The Zoning Code Commission has proposed that the new zoning code will go into effect six months after the date of its adoption. Any permits approved before the effective date of the new zoning code will remain valid until their expiration date.
Q. Where can I find a copy of the zoning code?
Philadelphia's zoning code is available online at http://www.amlegal.com/library/pa/philadelphia.shtml under Title 14 of the City Code, Zoning and Planning. This link can also be accessed via the ZoningMatters website, under the heading Zoning and Planning in Philadelphia>Philadelphia Zoning Resources.
Q. How can I find out how my property is zoned?
The City's web resources allow citizens to determine their property's zoning classification and permitted uses. Zoning classifications can be identified by clicking on the "Zoning Map" application on the CityMaps webpage (http://citymaps.phila.gov/citymaps/), which is also accessible from the city's homepage http://www.phila.gov/ under "Property Information." This application enables property owners to find classifications, maps, and overlays at the parcel and block level. Please note that the information provided through the application does not represent a zoning evaluation or decision.
Q. What if I have questions about my zoning?
Individuals with questions about their property's zoning should contact the Department of Licenses and Inspections: Municipal Services Building 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, 11th Floor Philadelphia, PA 19102 Phone: (215) 686-2463. Zoning resources are also available on the Department's website at http://www.phila.gov/li.
Q. How do I find notice of upcoming Zoning Board of Adjustment hearings?
Upcoming Zoning Board of Adjustment hearings are listed at the Department of Licenses and Inspections website, http://www.phila.gov/li. Click on "Board Appeals and Hearings" on the sidebar and "Hearings" on the sub-menu to view the schedule.
Q. How can I stay informed?
Continue to monitor www.zoningmatters.org for news updates, meeting schedules, and new opportunities for public involvement. Let your district councilmember know that zoning matters to you and your neighborhood, and request that he or she keep you informed. Follow the work of the Zoning Code Commission, attend its public meetings, and stay involved in the process.