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Seeking zoning approval for a Philadelphia project

9/26/2015 | Real Estate Blog

In our last post, we spoke a bit about developer Chancellor Hotels’ Hudson Hotel proposal for downtown Philly and its decision to seek zoning reclassification for the project. Zoning issues are common in real estate development and developers need to know how to navigate zoning laws when problems come up.

In Philadelphia, there are three primary ways to obtain a zoning permit. The first is by right, which occurs when a proposed project complies with all zoning provisions that apply to the property. In such cases, the approval process is relatively quick, and may only require going through the Civic Design Review process. In other cases, a developer may have to seek approval by special exception or through a variance. 

Under Philadelphia’s Zoning Code, certain projects require a special exception from the Zoning Board for certain uses and development. In these cases, the applicant is required to attend a public hearing before the Zoning Board to determine whether the project is compatible with and will not adversely impact the surrounding neighborhood. As part of the process, an applicant is required to provide notice of the hearing and meet with registered community organizations in the project area.

Still other projects may require a developer to seek zoning approval by variance. A variance refers to a deviation from zoning standards. In such cases, the developer is required to appeal to the Zoning Board, which will hold a public hearing to determine whether special circumstances at the property present an unnecessary hardship for the develop in abiding by the code. As with the special exceptions process, developers are required to post notice and meet with registered community organizations in the project area.

Of course, whenever a developer or business runs into problems obtaining zoning approval, it is important to work with an experienced real estate attorney to obtain guidance and advocacy. Doing so ensures that one’s interests are represented and one’s rights are protected.