City Links Under the Tree

Reference Guide

Happy holidays from Philadelphia Zoning!


We’ve had quite a year here, thanks to our clients, legal partners, and design partners.  To thank everyone, we’re offering this present:  A handy reference guide for our most common permitting projects.  Enjoy!



General Zoning and Permitting Information


The source:  The Philadelphia Zoning Code

The Philadelphia Code can be found here.  Title 14 (what those of us not in the legal profession would simply call “Chapter 14”) covers Zoning and Planning.  This is the actual law, amended from time to time, that governs the City of Philadelphia’s zoning process.


If you don’t wanna read the source (no judgment here):  Philly Permit Guide

Understanding that the Zoning Code is a dull mass of legal dark matter, the City complied their Permit Guide, which is kind of readable (you can try by clicking this link).  It’s split into Sections A and B:  A explains what each permit is (and when you need it), and B explains what documents to submit to actually get the permit.  That’s still pretty dense, but it is at least comprehensive.



If you just want to figure out what you can do with your property:  The Philadelphia Zoning Code Quick Reference Guide

The fact that the title of this guide is so long tells you that it’s still not that simple to parse.  However, it’s just a basic reference book with color photographs:  It tells you what kind of building is described by each zoning designation.  For instance, most of the buildings in Philly are zoned RSA-5, which means Residential Single-family Attached, Type 5.  RSA-5 buildings may only be used as residences unless a variance is sought, and they can only be built 38 feet high with a backyard of at least nine feet.  All this information (plus, like, arguably too much more) can be found on pages 8-9 of the Quick Reference Guide.


Page three of this guide has a very useful (and surprisingly brief!) summary and explanation of some of the City’s basic zoning terms.  It’s very handy; check it out.



Specific Zoning Permit Information


If you want an overview that is not the size of the Philadelphia Code:  Business Services’ Zoning Basics page

This page is a great start for those not looking to spend a decade in a monastery meditating on zoning.  It’s not laid out perfectly — the links are weirdly spaced, and there isn’t much of a flow for the eye.  But it has the information you need to get started, along with links to the physical forms used for submission to Licenses and Inspections.


If you need to know exactly what to give the City, because you are an architect:  Zoning instructions

Yes, it’s true:  The City of Philadelphia has a set of instructions that fits on a single sheet!  Rejoice, peoples of the greater Wawa region!


… I mean, don’t get carried away:  This thing is still pretty thick with information.  But in the bottom half, you can find a clear list of requirements for any prints submitted for review to the City as part of an application for a zoning or use permit.


If you have to appeal a zoning decision:  Zoning appeal instructions

This one’s pretty self-explanatory:  A page of instructions for the interested zoning applicant.  Like all City docs, it can take a minute to parse it, but it’s worth it if it’s your first time through the appeals process.


If you specifically want to know about a sign zoning permit:  The sign permit flowchart and Business Services’ signage reference.

Signs are brutal.  There’s no way around it.  They’re applied for like zoning and building permits — using the same forms — but they can trigger a million different technical reviews.  To prep yourself, it’s best to read these documents.  And since the most common sign review body is the Art Commission, you can check out their reference here.




Specific Building Permit Information


If you want a broad review or detailed submission instructions:  Business Services’ building permit reference

This page is the best thing the City of Philadelphia has put online.  It tells you exactly what you need for every type of building permit — and there are a lot of types of building permit.  A certificate of occupancy, for instance, is a building permit.  A fire suppression system requires a type of building permit.  And paradoxically, a demolition permit is also a type of building permit.  Read the reference; figure out what you need.


Towards the bottom of the page, each permit type is listed with a link.  Follow these links to learn exactly what you must submit in application for each building permit type.


You can also find links for the various forms required along the way, like the form certifying work on load-bearing construction.


If you need to double-check your application:  The list of most common building permit application problems

Riding an old-school Letterman top-ten vibe, the City threw this list together.  It might feel like a gimmick, but it’s very, very useful.



If you’re wondering about sign building permits, since sign zoning permits were so much fun:  Building Permit Standards for Signs

Everyone’s favorite permit type is back for more!  (Remember, as always, to start with the Business Services signage page.)




How long does it take?  Which department is in charge?  How much does it cost?  Can I pay to speed it up?


Believe it or not, all that information is on one chart:  The City’s list of processing and application fees.  Have fun calculating, and have a great 2018.


Philly Zoning Team
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