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New code faces challenges, but still a great improvement

4/5/2013 | Real Estate Blog

As a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out, it has been nearly one year since Philadelphia’s new zoning code became law. The new code was a huge accomplishment, having simplified, clarified and modernized the way zoning is handled after enduring years of an outdated system.

The article itself focused on the kinds of cases the zoning board had to deal with. These included cases where fences were creating problems among neighbors, where unusual pets and domesticated animals in residences were causing problems. Another interesting occurrence under the old code were the cases where parties, to demonstrate a point, would bring in evidence. This made for some interesting cases, it seems.

The new code was motivated by the challenges Philadelphia encountered during the 2000s, when development increased and a dysfunctional approval process resulted in approval of a number of inappropriate and controversial development while preventing many desirable projects.

The new code made things simpler and is much better adapted to current conditions. For developers, the permitting process is more efficient and predictable. What used to often be a difficult negotiation process between developers and neighborhood associations has been given more structure through the designation of Registered Community Organizations. These groups must be provided notice by a developer when certain types of variances are requested

The system is intended to facilitate effective communications between neighbors and developers, and hopefully cut out the involvement of district counselpersons in coming to a decision about projects.

There are, no doubt, challenges ahead for the new code. Indeed, we’ve written over the last year about some of these. Still, the new code is a vast improvement over what we had to deal with before.

Source:, “No dull moments for zoning board, Susan Jaffe, April 4, 2013