In the world of Philadelphia Zoning, there’s nothing more predictable than receiving a letter marked, “Request for Additional Information.”
There’s also nothing less predictable than a letter marked “Request for Additional Information.”
An additional information request is sent by Licenses and Inspections whenever one of their plans examiners wants — well, to know more about your project. Here’s a recent example from our files: Philadelphia Zoning applied for a Use Permit — a zoning permit that allows a building to be used in a certain way — for a tattoo shop. This is a very common application for us: we’ve shepherded a few shops through the Philly zoning process. For tattoo studios, the game is purely about securing a variance — permission to use a place differently than the zoning code allows explicitly. It doesn’t require architectural or engineering plans to apply, since the application isn’t to build anything new.
Except: This time, we got an additional information request. For architectural plans. Why?
Well, this time we were applying for the permit in a large building. The tattoo shop would occupy one of the many spaces in this building. This still doesn’t require any construction; however, the plans examiner decided that they want a floorplan to better understand our application. We complied, of course, and the application moved along.
Some of these requests are truly strange: One plans examiner asked us for six copies of the zoning architectural prints that the City had approved. This is wild, because the City keeps the plans we submit for review: The plans examiner was asking for something that was in a filing cabinet in his own building; possibly at the cubicle next to his.
But unless the request is impossible, we try to comply as quickly as possible so that the application isn’t slowed down. Here’s what you need to know about submitting additional information to Licenses and Inspections:
Unless Explicitly Stated, You Cannot Respond to an Additional Information Request Electronically
Yep: You have to print out a copy of your response — which might be a letter or a set of documents, like site plans — and take it, physically, down to L&I. Sure, once in a long while they just ask you for clarification; and specifically say that you can reply by email. But usually, you need to print your work and take it to L&I; where you literally drop it in a repurposed garbage bin marked, “Additional Information.” You sign a simple list, then snap a picture of your signature on the list. That’s your receipt: save it. Other than the digital camera, this process has probably been around since the Truman administration.
You Need to Submit a Signed Letter (and Sometimes Two of Them) with Each Additional Information Request
The City is strict about this one: you have to put your John Hancock on your work, so that the City can call you to account if you give them a half-finished packet. You won’t be able to say, “I didn’t know what you wanted!” The letter you sign is the letter that L&I sends to you. If L&I requests clarifying information, and not just documents; then you need to draft and a sign an additional letter clarifying your application.
You Need to Print and Submit a Cover Sheet
L&I won’t know what’s in their bin without a big, bright piece of paper screaming the destination. Type the name of the plans examiner you’re trying to reach, the application number, and the address of the property in question. Use massive font sizes.
Keep in mind: You have a deadline to submit all of this (usually, but not always, 60 days from receipt); and you (sometimes, but not always) are told how long the review of additional information will take (usually, but not always, 20 business days). There’s a lot of “usually, but not always” in this process.
Don’t wanna do any of that? Well, you could have Philadelphia Zoning handle your application. Not only will we reduce the incidence of requests for additional information — we’ve seen enough we can often avoid it — but if the City throws a request out, we’ll return it as fast as possible, formatted the way they expect.