Where’s My Permit?
When we started out at Philly Zoning, we got a version the same question every week: Where’s my permit? Once someone gets started on a permitting project, they want to know how far along the permit is, and how they can check its progress.
We give our clients weekly updates to answer that question, but we also think it might be helpful to provide an overview of the ebbs and flows of a permit review; and to give you all the links you need to track your project.
Before you file an application — and on our end, before we quote you for a project — there’s a good deal of basic information to sift through: Where is this property? What’s it zoned? Are there any existing violations on the property?
While Philly’s Zoning Code is pretty byzantine, the City’s online system is surprisingly robust; and the Office of Property Assessment has provided an awesome portal for basic zoning information: property.phila.gov. This simple search bar hides a cleanly-designed, clear overview of any property in the City. Just enter the address — no ZIP necessary — and a page showing the zoning classification, valuation history, improvement area, and current registered owner will pop up.
Not only can you find this great overview of the property, but you can also see the records from Licenses and Inspections. Just scroll down and click on the button marked “View the L&I Records,” and you’ll find the list of all permits, violations, and licenses on the property. This is particularly useful for any prospective homeowners or developers looking to make sure a property is clear of all violations.
Once you find your zoning classification (e.g., “RSA-5”), you can learn about the possible uses of the property by referring to the City’s Zoning resources, which we’ve previously reviewed.
The Permit Tracker
Once you know about your property, you can apply — or have our team at Philadelphia Zoning apply — for a permit. Once we collect all the necessary information, we’ll march down to Licenses and Inspections and submit the package for review by the department’s corps of plans examiners.
Here, we wait: It takes a minimum of a week and a maximum of a month to finish out a review. It can take even longer if the plans examiner assigned to the case decides that she needs to see more information about the project. If she does, she’ll send the applicant a letter requesting additional information; and the review of that additional information can also take up to a month.
While this is happening, you might forget about the date these reviews are supposed to be completed. You might just want to check in, too; and see how things are going. This used to happen so frequently that L&I created the L+I Permit Tracker. In this search bar, we write your application number and are told if the review is completed or not, and which day the review ought to be finished. We can even be reminded which phase of the review your application is in. We also give our clients the application number; so you can jump on the Permit Tracker at any time to keep tabs on your file.
Not all applications are complete after the initial review period: Our most common case type is the Zoning Use Variance. Any variance case, by its nature, means that the applicant wants special permission to do something the zoning (or building) code says that you can’t do. This means, naturally, that your application will be refused (because you’re asking for something technically illegal), and then you’ll file an appeal (because you really, really want to do the kind-of illegal thing).
Appeals, of course, also take some time to process. For a zoning appeal specifically, you’ll have to meet with a neighborhood organization for their review; and then meet with the Zoning Board of Adjustments at a date set by the ZBA.
There are two ways to track the appeal (and to thus be reminded of the date of the hearing): First, you can go back to property.phila.gov, click on the L&I records button, and scroll down to see the appeals on the property’s docket. You can also check the Appeals Calendar itself. The calendar is a lot less efficient way to find your appeal than just checking OPA property website; but the calendar will also give you information about all the other appeals happening the same day and week as your appeal.
In the end, we think the easiest way to track your permit is to just have us do it — we have the extra advantage of actually being down at Licenses and Inspections where we talk regularly with the plans examiners and staff. But if you need to go it alone — or you just want to track the progress along with us — you now have some tools to find your permit.