Zoning laws are municipal laws that dictate how properties can and cannot be used. Parks, businesses, and homes are all regulated by zoning laws. The majority of the properties in our neighborhood are zoned for single family residential use. There are also properties that are zoned for multi-family residential use, mixed use (commercial and residential), and commercial use.
Zoning regulations govern:
• Land use
• Height and bulk of buildings
• Population density
• Parking requirements
• Placement of signs
• Character of development on private property
• Development in protected areas and on steep slopes
Zoning permits authorize a particular use of a property. More than one zoning permit may be required before a building permit can be issued by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses & Insprections (L&I) for construction or demolition, or before a Certificate of Occupancy can be issued to occupy a building.
Click here for the most recent Philadelphia Zoning Code which was implemented on August 22, 2012. The Zoning Code was amended on June 28, 2016 to rezone certain areas of land located within WICA’s boundaries and on June 21, 2018 to create the Wissahickon Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District.
Duplexes, triplexes, and apartments are designed for multi-family use. Existing buildings used as multi-family residences may or may not be zoned for multi-family use. This might be fore several reasons:
• The property was zoned for multi-family in the past and has been in continuous use.
• The property is a single family home that was illegally converted into a multi-family building and is renting without a license.
• The property applied for and was granted a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).
If you believe a building is being rented without a license (whether single family or multi-family), or if you believe a single family home is being rented to four or more unrelated adults (in violation of single family rental licenses), you can report the property to 311 by calling 311 or using their online portal: https://www.phila.gov/departments/philly311/
Variances are needed when a property applies for a zoning permit and the proposal does not meet the standards laid out in the Philadelphia Code. Variances can be sought for a change in use (from single family to a duplex, for example) or for dimensional changes (such as an increase to building height). In order to obtain a variance, the owner would apply for the variance from the Philadelphia ZBA. The ZBA makes the decision on whether or not to grant the variance. Prior to hearing a case, the ZBA requires the applicant to meet with the Registered Community Organization (RCO).
WICA’s Role in Zoning
WICA is the local RCO. The ZBA requires that applicants seeking a zoning variance hold a public meeting hosted by the governing RCO. WICA’s role is to hear the details of zoning applications made within our civic association boundaries, hold a vote, and form an opinion on the proposal. The vote is typically in the form of ‘support’, ‘oppose’, or ‘no position’ on the variance. The results of the vote and WICA’s position on the proposal are then sent to the ZBA and read at the hearing where the variance decision is made.
WICA does not make final decisions on applications and WICA cannot change zoning.