Zoning designations are one of the most challenging parts of the construction management and real estate industries. Since 2012, the Philadelphia Zoning Code has laid out the regulation of land usage, building size, parking and signage laws, the use of property, and much more. However, when it comes to zoning in Philadelphia (and anywhere else!) things can get complicated —fast.
We're here to help you to cut through all the red tape. Familiarize yourself with the basics of zoning in this article. That way, you can prevent lost time and expensive fees and project costs due to zoning violations.
The basics of zoning designations
In a nutshell, zoning laws regulate the permits that are required when you want to create a new building/architecture project or add onto an existing building.
These zoning permits are non-renewable, and can only be used to complete the specific, stated project. You may also need what's called a Use Registration Permit. These permits outline what you're allowed to use your building for. For example, will it be a bar or an office building?
Within specific "zones" of Philadelphia, certain uses, size limitations, and more may face restrictions. In general, zones within a specific municipality can be either residential, industrial, or commercial.
Additionally, keep in mind that zoning laws and designations will also apply to land that has not yet been built upon. Essentially, as a part of overall urban planning, governments using zoning laws to restrict building/land uses.
Though the idea is to keep the city, district, or zone "in balance," sometimes these laws can get controversial. This is especially true now, since the decisions and regulations of one zone can often impact others.
Sometimes, they can even influence the whole city.
Which projects require zoning approval?
There are a few, general projects that require zoning approval. They include:
- New buildings
- Combining/Dividing existing lots
- Installing storefront signs
- Adding to existing buildings
- A change of use for an existing property
- Non-residential fence construction
- Decks over 12 inches in height
- Changes to parking lots
- Creation of new parking lots
To understand more about the specific zoning laws of your district in Philadelphia, use the city's Quick Reference Guide.
You can also go here to learn more about the zoning regulations your particular project will be subjected to in Philadelphia. You'll also learn about how historic preservation and art commission regulations impact your building construction.
While this brief guide has covered the basics of zoning designations, they're just one of the many things you need to know when it comes to constructing a building. Check out this explainer series to learn about all the steps involved.