Additional Information: Zoning Permit
Previously in this blog, we’ve mentioned the City of Philadelphia’s requests for additional information. Since we see a lot of these, we are going to create a catalogue of the requests as a reference guide. We hope that this will help our clients, design partners, and contractors better understand what information is most commonly missing from an application. (If you haven’t seen it before, it’s also worth checking out the City’s list of top ten building permit application deficiencies.)
Today, we’re going to look at another subset of these cases: the zoning permit itself.
It might sound strange coming from Philadelphia Zoning, but one of the things the City requests most often of us is a zoning permit. This is because a zoning permit isn’t just required for use cases: it’s required any time you change the square footage or shape of a building. So: most building permits will require a zoning permit first. Whenever we take a case halfway through — say a client wants us to finish out a permit application a contractor started — we’ll often find that the original applicant didn’t actually apply for the zoning permit first.
The lesson: (1) Hire Philadelphia Zoning to do your permitting! We’re reliable and we know stuff. (2) Make sure you know what a zoning permit is for, and when to get one.
As we’ve talked about before in this blog, there’s a difference between zoning and use permits. Even though both of these permit types share the same application form, and even though they both fall under the general discipline of “zoning,” there are simple distinctions that are important to keep in mind.
A use permit authorizes or registers the use of a given property with the City. If you want to open a coffee shop in a former antique clothing store, you’ll need to apply for a use permit to use the property as a coffee shop. If you want to open that coffee shop in an old house, on a residential street, you’ll need special permission from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. In this example, you’d be applying for a use variance permit, because you want to use the place in a way the Zoning Code doesn’t allow.
A zoning permit is different: A zoning permit authorizes construction, demolition, and changes to lot lines. A zoning permit, essentially, tells the City where buildings go and how they’re shaped; a use permit tells the City what goes on inside the building. (This is why we can safely say it’s illegal to operate a fight club in a residential basement; though probably some other state and federal laws also have something against that use of your property.)
Okay: this means that any time you want to build anything in Philly — even if you’re just building a deck — you need to get yourself a zoning permit before you apply for the building permit. And this, of course, will require architectural plans to the City’s specifications. Just do it once, correctly, and the City will be happy to pass your application through. If you apply without a zoning permit, with insufficiently detailed plans, or with a zoning permit that doesn’t match the building permit application, you’ll get a request for additional information.