The New Philadelphia Zoning Code – Take Notice

The revised Philadelphia Zoning Code will be effective before your Labor Day barbeque is over, and there is a smorgasbord of changes to digest. For instance, let’s take “notice,” a contentious issue the new Code seeks to resolve with procedural safeguards and requirements.

A frequent area of conflict under the current (soon to be former) Code centered on interactions between developers and neighbors during the zoning/use approval process. Many times, a developer would complain that it did not know which neighborhood civic association represented a particular area, or that a civic association’s meeting schedule resulted in delays in the zoning hearing and approval process. Conversely, neighbors would charge that they were not given adequate notice of applications filed or permits issued with enough lead time to have meaningful input into the process. The revised Code seeks to balance the property owner/developer’s interest in certainty, both in terms of time required to complete the application process and identification of potentially interested parties, against the neighbors’ need for notice of the application and an opportunity to participate.

Under the revised Code, a civic association which desires to receive notices of applications and hearings will have to register annually with the City of Philadelphia Planning Commission as a Registered Community Organization, or RCO. In that registration, the RCO must, among other things, identify a contact person, specify its geographic boundaries, and advise whether it wants to be provided with notices by mail or electronically. An RCO can either be a Local Registered Community Organization, which has a geographic concern relating to a certain neighborhood, or an Issue-based Registered Community Organization, which can claim a much larger geographic area of concern, even up to entirety of the city.

Each RCO is entitled to notice with respect to a project within its registered boundaries from the applicant within seven days after (i) the applicant has appealed to the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment for special exception or variance approval, or (ii) the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) has determined that Civic Design Review (to be discussed in a later blog post) is required with respect to the application. L&I is charged with providing the applicant with the identities of each RCO to be contacted and provided notice. The applicant’s notice must contain specific information, including the name of the applicant, the location of the property, the nature of the application and the time and place of any required meeting or hearing.

The Local RCO must schedule and hold a meeting with the applicant within forty five days after the applicant has (i) appealed to the Zoning Board or (ii) has been notified that Civic Design Review is required. No proceeding before the Zoning Board or Civic Design Review Committee can occur until the applicant and Local RCO have satisfied the requirements to meet, or the forty five day period has passed.

The rules surrounding the posting of Zoning Board hearing notices on a property have also changed. For example, under the current Code, those notices must only be posted for the twelve days prior to and including the hearing date. As of August 22, 2012, zoning notices will need to remain posted continuously for the twenty one days prior to and including the hearing date. In addition, if the hearing is continued to a date more than seven days later than the original hearing date, the applicant must post a notice at the property from the date seven days after the original hearing date, until the date of the continued hearing.

This blog post should not be considered a comprehensive summary of all of the changes made by the revised Code in these areas. The revisions to the notice procedures should be reviewed in their entirety as they are intricate and detailed. Close attention must be paid to them, however, as failure to do so could result in the same kinds of project delays for which the Zoning Code Commission sought a remedy.

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