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Zoning Appeals

Zoning Appeal Lawyer in Philadelphia, PA

The legal team at Kenny, Burns & McGill has spent decades assisting real estate clients with Philadelphia zoning appeals. Zoning and land use issues can bring an otherwise perfectly viable project to a complete halt; it is imperative to work with a lawyer who has spent decades learning and practicing zoning law when dealing with these problems. This area of the legal world can be especially difficult to navigate due to the interactions between federal law, state regulations, and municipal codes, but our attorneys have detailed knowledge of these issues and can help cut through the bureaucratic red tape.

In Philadelphia, any business or organization, including non-profit corporations and LLCs, must be represented by an attorney when going in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Call Kenny, Burns & McGill today to find representation! (215) 423-5500

This page defines some important terms related to zoning and explains the steps involved in Philadelphia’s zoning permits procedure. We are especially experienced in helping small business owners (such as daycare operators and residential landlords) solve zoning issues that would otherwise prevent them from starting or expanding their businesses.

Philadelphia Zoning Appeal Terms and Definitions

What is the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustments?

The Zoning Board of Adjustments is also called the “Zoning Board” or simply the “ZBA.” This board is closely tied to the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections (“L&I”). The ZBA hears appeals of certain actions taken by L&I, including the rejection of zoning applications and the issuance of by-rights permits.

What is a Zoning Permit?

A zoning permit is the City’s way of giving a development or land use project permission to proceed. There are three main paths to getting a zoning permit in Philadelphia: by right, by special exception, or by variance.

What is a By-Right Permit?

According to Philadelphia’s Zoning Code, there are certain things you are allowed to do on a given property depending on how it is zoned. Legally, however, you must still apply for a zoning permit before you will be authorized to perform any of these allowed actions. That being said, the City cannot deny you permission to take these actions – you are guaranteed these permits “by right.” By-right permits are typically granted by L&I and do not have to go in front of the ZBA.

What is a Special Exception?

Certain uses and developments are permitted under the Zoning Code by “special exception.” This means that the project technically falls within what is allowed by the Code, but it must undergo a special review process before a permit is granted. This review process follows the steps outlined in the “What is the Philadelphia Zoning Procedure?” section below, and it aims to assess if the project is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood before the ZBA gives it the go-ahead.

What is a Zoning Variance?

If you would like to undertake a project that is explicitly not allowed on your property by the Zoning Code, you must apply for a “zoning variance.” This is more serious than a special exception; with special exceptions, the ZBA just needs to make sure your project will not overly disrupt its surroundings, whereas applying for a variance is asking the ZBA to approve a deviation from the Zoning Code. With variances, the ZBA automatically assumes that your project violates the law, so you must prove to the ZBA that there are legitimate reasons why your project will not be able to adhere to the Zoning Code, as well as provide evidence that your project is worth diverging from the Zoning Code.

What is the Philadelphia Zoning Appeal Procedure?

There are several steps that must be followed in order to make any changes to your property’s zoning. Here are the steps our attorneys take while representing our clients:

Step 1: Submit an Application for a Zoning Permit

There are many forms and documents that must be collected, completed, and submitted to L&I as part of your Philadelphia zoning permit application. Some projects may also require you to get approval from additional City departments, which our attorneys will help you navigate. There is a small fee associated with the application, and you should expect to wait several weeks while the City reviews your project.

If you applied for a by-right zoning permit, it will be granted at this point and you will be able to proceed with your project! If you applied for a zoning exception or variance, the process continues to Step 2.

Step 2: Receive a Refusal

Having your application rejected is an expected part of this procedure. If the City is not required to grant your permit by rights, L&I will decline your application by sending you a form called a refusal. Once you have received this form, you can move on to the next step.

Step 3: Appeal the Refusal

At this point, our attorneys will appeal your refusal to the ZBA by filing another form. There is another fee associated with this filing, and it can take the City another few weeks to review appeals.

Step 4: Notify Your Neighbors and Attend Neighborhood Meeting

Once your zoning appeal has been processed, the City will send you a list of Registered Community Organizations (RCOs). RCOs vary in terms of organization, size, and makeup, but they are all community groups that are concerned with the physical development of their community. RCOs organize and conduct public meetings at which members of the community can comment on projects that are planned for their neighborhood.

People who are appealing a refused zoning permit are required to present their project to the Coordinating RCO (which is designated by the Zoning Board), as well as to notify all other local RCOs and neighbors about the meeting.

Our team will present the project to the Coordinating RCO and any neighbors in attendance. The RCO usually holds a formal vote whether to support or oppose the requested zoning proposal; however, their decision is not legally binding. The Zoning Board does like zoning projects to have support from the neighbors before the project is authorized, so the approval of your neighbors can help secure your permit.

Step 5: Prepare for Philadelphia Zoning Appeal Hearing

Our team prepares by making our zoning cases as airtight and persuasive as possible before presenting at a zoning hearing. This may include contacting and collecting information from anyone who has positive things to say about why your project should be approved. This can include testimony from your happy clients, letters of support from your professional colleagues, pictures and diagrams of your current and proposed property, endorsements from the neighbors/RCOs, and much more.

Step 6: Attend Philadelphia Zoning Appeal Hearing

After all of our preparation is complete, our legal team attends the zoning appeal hearing to present in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustments. Here, you will get to see our attorneys in action as they present every piece of evidence as to why your project is worthwhile and should be allowed to proceed.

Our team has presented many successful cases to the Zoning Board. The Board may decide the case the same day, or they may wish to hold it under advisement and issue a decision at a later date.

However, if the ZBA decides that they cannot or will not deviate from the law for your project, there are still paths forward. It is possible to appeal adverse ZBA decisions to the Court of Common Pleas, if necessary.

We Can Help With Your Philadelphia Zoning Appeal

Applying for and arguing a Philadelphia zoning appeal is a complex process with many potential pitfalls and points of confusion. While individual homeowners are technically allowed to represent themselves at zoning hearings, we recommend that everyone has adequate legal representation when getting involved with the Zoning Code and the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment. Businesses and organizations, including non-profits and LLCs, are required to have representation from an attorney.

We know how important your projects are to you, so we cannot overstate the importance of finding an attorney who has been in front of the Philadelphia Zoning Board many times before and knows the law inside and out.

If you are trying to move forward with a project and are getting stopped by zoning issues, give Kenny, Burns & McGill a call today to see how we can help! (215) 423-5500


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    Phone: 215-423-5500
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