New Philadelphia Zoning Bills Introduced Look to Expand City Council Influence in Development, Curb Influence of Multifamily Development

June 16, 2019 | By Nicole E. Norcross

Two bills were recently introduced before Philadelphia City Council which aim to expand City Council’s input and influence over the implementation of the Philadelphia Zoning Code and curb the rising popularity of multifamily development as a result of the impacts of the 2012 changes to the City’s Zoning Code.

The first proposed bill, submitted to City Council by Council President Darrell L. Clarke, seeks to establish a commission to reexamine the Philadelphia Zoning Code, effective as of August 22, 2012. By way of background, the Philadelphia Zoning Code underwent an intense overhaul after years of study by the City’s Planning Commission, and a new zoning code was put into place in August of 2012. Since its implementation, developers have been able to build more multifamily housing, expanding the City’s population and tax base, but the Code has also lessened requirements for parking, with the hopes of expanding pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and aiming to promote alternative forms of transportation for the growing population of City residents, with the inclusion of bicycle space requirements.

This bill looks to create a “Zoning Code Review Commission” to review the impacts of the Zoning Code since its implementation in 2012. Under the proposed bill, this commission would be controlled by City Council and would be tasked with evaluating the Zoning Code and recommending changes to City Council and the Mayor to remedy the “significant disconnect” and to address other “ongoing concerns.” This follows from concern from City Council members about the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment’s approval rate, in which the bill notes is at a rate which “reflects a significant disconnect between planning law, policies, and enforcement.”

The proposed Zoning Code Review Commission would significantly extend City Council’s role in development across all districts in the City. Currently, under the Code, a representative of the pertinent City Council District office is permitted to attend hearings before the Zoning Board of Adjustment to provide testimony on the proposed development application, and has the ability to request a delay in the hearing based on input from district constituents. City Council also has reviewing and decision- making authority for zoning text and master plan amendments, as well as zoning remapping.

The second proposed bill, also submitted to City Council by Council President Clarke, seeks to limit the ability of the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment to grant variances specifically for multifamily housing in new, specifically designated “Single Family Preservation Districts.” According to the proposed bill, the specifically designated “Single Family Preservation Districts” will include “[w]ithin the Fifth Councilmanic District, all areas zoned RSD-1, RSD-2, RSD-3, RSA-1, RSA-2, RSA-3, RSA-4, RSA-5, and RTA- 1.” Notably limited to President Clarke’s district, this bill looks to specifically cut back the increase in multi-family development in North Philadelphia, and favor the current scheme of single-family townhouse development currently permitted in these RSD and RSA districts.

These proposed bills, if passed, would result in significant impacts on planning and zoning in Philadelphia by limiting multifamily housing opportunities in North Philadelphia neighborhoods. Further, depending on the actions of the potential Zoning Code Review Commission, the Zoning Code as currently implemented could be significantly altered.

Copies of both proposed bills can be found here and here.

Should you have any questions or concerns regarding the proposed bills and their impact on your business and proposed development projects, please feel free to reach out to one of the attorneys in our Zoning & Land Use department.

About the Authors

Nicole E. Norcross


Nicole focuses her practice on transactional matters, specifically commercial real estate, business transactions and financing, both in the public and private sectors. Nicole’s experience in finance and real estate matters also allows...

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