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Zoning board continues granting variances from new code for garage-fronted rowhouses

5/11/2013 | Real Estate Blog

One of the unique features of Philadelphia’s new zoning code, passed last year, is that it took steps to embrace a more modern view of cities, a view holding that city streets should be open and accessible to pedestrians. One local practice that has long prevented this is that of garage-fronted rowhouses. These dwellings feature faceless garage doors visible at street level, and are usually prohibitive of windows that would convey a sense of hominess.

Unfortunately, the Zoning Board of Adjustment has not yet taken on the vision of the new code on this point. The board has reportedly been granting zoning variances permitting developers of rowhouses to install garages where livings rooms are intended to be. It isn’t clear exactly how many such rowhouses have been approved since the code was introduced eight months ago. 

Those who are criticizing the practice say that garages make streets less friendly, less safe and less comfortable. There is also some concern that the practice of granting variances on these projects undermines the zoning code’s vision. Some say part of the problem is that the Planning Commission, which developed the new code, is only able to recommend what should be built in the city, but cannot actually enforce it. That is up to the zoning board.

Part of the problem is also that many developers are convinced that they will not be able to sell a new rowhouse without a garage. There may be some truth in that, but the practice is not necessarily in harmony with other goals the Nutter administration is pursuing, such as increase use of public transportation.

Source:, “Changing Skyline: Phila. zoning board undermines planning vision,” Inga Saffron, May 4, 2013. 

Source: Source:, “Changing Skyline: Phila. zoning board undermines planning vision,” Inga Saffron, May 4, 2013.