Philadelphia and its’ residents have within the past five years been facing new zoning laws. While most homeowners are aware that these laws exist, the extent of these laws are unknown.
As of Aug. 22, 2012, Philadelphia has been implementing a new Zoning Code, which regulates the development within the city. These regulations were slightly different than those that were in place before this date, and residents of the city of Philadelphia are forced to have to collaborate with the change.
Zoning laws require authorization before the construction or addition to a building or other such additions to a property. Zoning Permits are necessary for things such as demolition of any property, non-residential fences, decks higher than 12 ft. above ground, creation of off-street parking, and installation of signs. On the other hand, Registration Permits are for a particular use of the building or ground. This includes a new business, changes in activity in existing building, and increase or decrease in the number of dwelling units.
According to Phila.gov, “Zoning regulations govern land use, the height and bulk of buildings, population density, parking requirements, the placement of signs, character of development on private property, and property uses.” While the application process is supposed to be easily accessible to citizens, the process of getting approved can be lengthy and in the end be rejected multiple times.
As mentioned above, applications can be found online or at the Zoning Office in Center City. While the submission process starts once the application is filled out and submitted, it could take up to weeks to be completed. According to business.phila.gov, the Zoning Board will review the Application to determine if it complies with the code. At this point, it could take up to 20 days for the review permit to be approved. After the review is completed, if your proposal meets the requirements, you will be issued a Zoning Permit, Use Registration Permit, Zoning and Use Registration Permit, and a Certification. In some cases, zoning laws not only have to be considered by land owners and the board, but also realtors who have to sell business space in accordance with the Zoning Laws.
“If an agent has a client looking to buy land or redevelop an area, he has to make sure the zoning area is appropriate for his client’s use,” said Rebecca Sole, an agent with Delphi Property Group.
“There are over 30 zoning codes and each applies differently throughout the city. People tend to not think much about having to file through the Zoning Board, but find the process can be a hassle and sometimes expensive. It is not often considered that in order to build a deck or large garden, it all has to get approved beforehand.”
According to Scholar.harvard.edu, land regulations and zoning borders play a big role into racial segregation. Since people of Hispanic and African American descent tend to live in and around major cities, they are restricted to these areas with limited options to expand and further themselves.
The article states, “In some cases historians have documented that such outcomes were in fact the intent of the laws, pointing towards jurisdictions enacting such regulation in the wake of the Supreme Court cases striking down communities’ abilities to enforce racial segregation through public regulation in 1917 or private restrictive covenants.”
While these exact regulations that divide the races do not exactly apply within Philadelphia, it is noticeable that those who have money can live in different areas of Philadelphia than those who don’t have as much money. In the poorer areas of the city, it is less likely to find people expanding their houses or adding to their properties. It is not that these people are restricted by the zoning regulations, but that they do not have the extra money to spend on fixing their houses or adding gardens. There may not be a difference in the types of people applying through the zoning board, but there will be a racial difference in the type of work they are adding to their houses and yards.
Edwin and Stephanie Guevara are new residents of Fishtown and have had a run in with the Zoning Board already. They were interested in adding a patio and garden to their yard, and went ahead and did that within a few weeks of moving in. It wasn’t until they started adding a picture window, one that protruded out from the back of the house only at the window location. After hiring a private contractor, it took till the second day for the Zoning Board to become aware of the addition and approach the Guevara’s about it by leaving the Zoning Notice on the front of their house. It was then that they had to apply through the Zoning Board. Edwin said the process took about two weeks for his application to be taken to the Board, which was eventually approved. At this point, he can proceed with his picture window.
“I have nothing bad to say about the Zoning Board, I mean it is their job to make sure the people in their city are following the restrictions. I just think sometimes they take it a little too far. They used the garden and patio to get to us, when neither were affecting anything but us,” said Stephanie. “I will most likely reconsider when making adjustments to our house in the future just to avoid all the hassle of getting approved. I never would have thought that little things like this affect the zoning laws.”
While there are different zoning regulations throughout different neighborhoods, it is important to follow these guidelines. Not just for the purpose of following the rules, but in most cases it is for the better of the neighborhood and the safety of the citizens. The zoning regulations are set in place to keep the city in order and for the citizens of Philadelphia, not for the purpose of creating any issues. In this case, the Guevara’s did not face any issues with the zoning process, but were not happy with the pause in their construction.