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Zoning 101: Community involvement – will this be on the test? p3

7/3/2014 | Real Estate Blog

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission encourages community feedback on development projects and solicits that feedback in a number of different ways. We have been talking about how Registered Community Organizations fit into the process.

As we said in our last post, a developer must ask the city for a variance or an exception. If the city denies the application, the developer may appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustments. This is where RCOs step into the foreground.

RCOs — and, in fact, communities — are not left to their own devices to find out about development proposals denied by the Department of Licenses and Inspections. Before the developer’s hearing date with the ZBA, the developer must hold a public meeting with the RCO. Without that public meeting, the ZBA will not hear the appeal.

The objective of the public hearing, of course, is to air any concerns the community may have with the proposal. If the RCO and the developer can work together — and developers do listen to the RCO’s concerns — the RCO will write that letter of support to the ZBA. If there are still concerns, the ZBA will receive a letter of opposition.

When the RCO supports the proposal, including the exception or variance, it is up to the developer to convince the ZBA that the project will not harm the community. If, however, the RCO objects to the proposal and wants the city to reject the application for an exception, the burden of proof falls on the RCO. The community must prove to the city that the proposed project would have a negative impact. Again, individuals may also participate, but the RCO’s opposition carries a good deal of weight, in part because the developer and the RCO have already met.

There is one more level of complexity to the process: A developer may have to work with more than one RCO on any given proposal. And that means, too, that RCOs will have to work together from time to time. The idea, again, is that developers work out any differences with as many parts of the community as possible before the ZBA hearing.

The community input process is just one reason that development does not happen overnight. When you consider how much one project can affect a neighborhood, though, is there a good reason to eliminate any one of these steps?

Source: UC Review, “Philadelphia Planning Commission gives the ‘skinny’ on zoning and the RCO process,” Nicole Contosta, June 25, 2014