What are zoning maps?
Every parcel of land in the City has a zoning classification ranging from residential to commercial, industrial, and special purpose districts. Presently, there are 55 different zoning classifications. When the City's first Zoning Code was adopted in 1933, zoning maps were also created for the entire City to depict the zoning classification for each parcel. The original zoning maps for Philadelphia were a project of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration and were created based on a land use survey of existing conditions. Thus, rather than providing a comprehensive plan to guide development, the City's original zoning maps simply reflected the current land use patterns that had evolved.
The Zoning Remapping Program
After the first comprehensive revision to the Zoning Code in 1962, it was apparent that the City had grown and changed significantly. Many updates were needed due to the changes that had taken place in the neighborhoods. Thus, the City created a Zoning Remapping Program in 1965 to manage comprehensive development and land use plans for the many communities and neighborhoods that comprise it.
From Communities to the City Planning Commission
Zoning remapping proposals can be initiated by the community, the Planning Commission or by the local district councilmember. Usually, the neighborhood recognizes that significant land use changes have occurred or may occur, and that the existing zoning classifications do not reflect the needs of the community. Planning Commission staff work closely with the community to develop a land use and zoning profile of the neighborhood. An inventory of every land use is conducted and maps are created showing the existing zoning, the current uses, and a proposed zoning map change. The Planning Commission staff involves and informs the community as much as possible through neighborhood meetings, local newspapers, newsletters, etc.
After its approval at a community meeting, the proposed zoning map change is presented to the members of the Planning Commission at a public meeting. Representatives from the community and the district councilmember are encouraged to attend and provide comment. If the Planning Commission endorses the proposal, then a bill is drafted for introduction in City Council. Pursuant to the City Charter, the Planning Commission is also required to submit a formal recommendation to the Mayor after a zoning map bill is introduced but before the public hearing by the City Council Rules Committee.
Approval by City Council
The bill containing the "Existing Zoning Map" and the "Proposed Zoning Map" is traditionally introduced by the appropriate district councilmember. The process for passage of a zoning map bill is similar to the process for the adoption of any bill, except that there are additional notice requirements for the public hearing. First, the bill is referred to the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee then holds a public hearing on the bill. Notice of this hearing is advertised in the legal notices section of the newspaper 12 days in advance. In addition, the neighborhood area affected by the proposed remapping is posted with a notice of the date, time, place and purpose of the hearing.
If approved by the Rules Committee, the bill is voted on by the full City Council after the title is read at two sessions of Council. A majority vote of City Council (or nine votes) is required to pass the bill. The bill is then presented to the Mayor for his or her signature. Once signed by the Mayor (or once it becomes law without signature), the Planning Commission changes the City's official Zoning Maps.
This entire process takes approximately one year. If only a few parcels are being rezoned and remapped, then the timeframe can be shorter, requiring only a couple of months. Likewise, if the area to be remapped is quite large or requires extensive community discussion, then the process can take longer.By the end of 1999, 183 neighborhoods had been re-mapped through this process, representing 70% of the land area of the City.
Remapping and the current zoning reform
Once the Zoning Code Commission completes its work of rewriting the zoning code, a remapping of the City's land will be carried out as the final step in the zoning reform process. Under the guidance of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, zoning remapping will be coordinated with the City's comprehensive planning process as well as area-level plans. The result will be a set of maps optimized for guiding future development in Philadelphia's best interests.
What happens to my property if the zoning classification is changed?
It is important to note that a zoning map change cannot be used to take away a property owner's right to continue to use their land or building for any legal existing use. Therefore, if you operate a retail store and the zoning was changed to residential, you can continue to operate the store until you either voluntarily change the use or abandon the use. This situation is referred to as a Non-Conforming Use. If however, your property meets the new classification, for example an old warehouse that has been converted into condominiums is changed from Light Industrial to Residential, then there is no "non-conformity" and the new zoning map reflects existing conditions.
You can view the City's zoning maps at http://citymaps.phila.gov/zoning/.