It’s Always Zoning in Philadelphia

Written by: Alan Nochumson


In this blog, we offer a basic introduction to zoning in Philadelphia and how our team can help you navigate the process as a real estate developer.

Philadelphia may be an old city, but as you travel through many of the city’s neighborhoods you will notice a lot of new development taking place, and with any new development, whether residential or commercial, zoning in Philadelphia brings a host of questions and issues. Most people have a general understanding of the idea of zoning. You would not want a loud, large sports bar opening next door to the new home you just bought nor would you appreciate a busy restaurant opening on one of the cities’ small side streets where the neighborhood children play. As such, the City makes some rules meant to preserve neighborhoods and allow businesses to prosper in places that do not negatively affect the community.

In this blog, we offer a basic introduction to zoning in Philadelphia and how our team can help you navigate the process as a real estate developer.

What is Zoning in Philadelphia?

At the most basic level, zoning is the regulation of the land and its development in the city. In Philadelphia, zoning is set by the district.  All of the rules are set by the Zoning Code, with its purpose being “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.” Philadelphia revamped its Zoning Code in 2012 and created a detailed map of Philly’s neighborhoods, divided by housing or business type. This allows the City to guide the nature of development. For instance, building heights are regulated depending on the neighborhoods. Each property in Philly is zoned under a particular category — i.e. residential, industrial, retail sales — and a real estate developer cannot go against it without approval from the local community and the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).

There are 10 categories of zoning in Philadelphia:

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

Because things are never that simple, within each of these categories are various subcategories, just to add to the confusion.

Exceptions to the Rules

Philadelphia has an established review board dedicated to reviewing citizen complaints and, assuming all proper procedures are followed, granting real estate developer’s requests for exceptions to the rules. There are so many different types of exceptions granted and they are dependent on the neighborhood, the details of the proposed plan, and even who happens to be running the ZBA at the time. Because of this, discussing your plans, predicaments, and overall business strategy with an experienced team of real estate attorneys can go a long way to ensuring your development is a success.

Over the years, we have helped countless real estate developers in dealing with the various City agencies and boards in seeing their project to completion. In addition, our interactive Land Use and Zoning Analysis Tool leverages Philadelphia’s open-source data to draw valuable and helpful information specific to your 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.