Getting in the Zone – Land Zoning Types in Philadelphia

Written by: Alan Nochumson

No matter what the old song may say, this land may be your land, but it is still subject to city zoning laws and regulations. While the basic idea behind zoning laws and regulations may seem sensical enough, as always, the devil is in the details.

Simply put, zoning is what regulates land and development in the city of Philadelphia. The land zoning types in Philadelphia are set by the Philadelphia Zoning Code, and they are enforced by the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

The Philadelphia Zoning Code’s purpose, as it is written, is “to guide the land use and development of the City and in so doing, promote the public health, safety, and general welfare of its citizens and visitors.” In layman’s terms, the Philadelphia Zoning Code sets rules to ensure you are not building something you should not be building. It makes sure your buildings are safe. Either as a homeowner or developer, having a working knowledge of these governmental requirements will help ensure your project is legal and safe.

What are the Zoning Categories?

Zoning categories vary among counties, cities, and communities. In Philadelphia, there are 10 zoning categories:

  • Residential
  • Parks and open space
  • Public, civic, and institutional
  • Office
  • Retail
  • Commercial
  • Vehicle and vehicular equipment sales and services
  • Wholesale, distribution, and storage
  • Industrial
  • Urban architecture

Within those categories, there are many subcategories. For example, under the residential category, there are subcategories for single-family, two-family, and multi-family dwellings, or, under the commercial category, there are subcategories for office buildings, shopping centers, nightclubs, hotels, warehouses, etc.

Land Zoning Permit Types

The Philadelphia Zoning Code covers 2 types of permits:

  • Zoning Permits authorize construction or an addition to a building. A zoning permit is required for the following:
    • All new construction
    • Building an extension to an existing structure
    • Creating or subdividing a lot
    • Demolition or partial demolition of a structure
    • Billboards and certain signs
    • Construction of masonry fences above two (2) feet
    • Construction of fences above legal height limits allowed by Zoning Code in the specific zoning classification ruling that property.
    • Creation of off-street parking or reconfiguration of existing parking
    • Installation of some signs in addition to the actual sign permit
  • Use Registration Permits authorize a particular use of the building or ground. A use registration permit is required for the following situations:
    • Changes in any activity in an existing building
    • New business use for a property
    • Increases or decreases in the number of dwelling units
    • Elimination of existing use of a property
    • Billboards and most signs

While these lists may seem straightforward enough, as with anything legal, the farther along you get in the process, the more complicated it becomes.

Recently, realizing the real estate structures in Philadelphia continue to rise, we have leveraged Philadelphia’s open-source data and developed an interactive Land Use and Zoning Analysis Tool. With this tool in place, real estate developers and investors in the city will now have the ability to better determine the feasibility of a project by obtaining valuable and helpful information specific to their project and development.

At Nochumson P.C., we are more than legal counsel. We are people serving our neighbors and community in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Knowing that real communication between real people can help lead to real positive results, our team of attorneys are available 24/7 to help answer your legal questions and to fight for you with skill and fortitude, whatever the case may be. When you hire us, you can expect a sensible and cost-effective approach to legal counsel. We think fast, think ahead, and get things done. Contact us today or call us at (215) 399-1346 to see how we can represent you.