Multifamily Use of RSA-5 Lot in South Philly

Multifamily Use of RSA-5 Lot in South Philly

Original Zoning: RSA-5

Seeking: Multifamily variance with 6 units

Lot size: 2,556 sqft.


This project was for an RSA-5 → multifamily use variance for a large, L -shaped, rear lot in the East Point Breeze neighborhood. The original application was for 7 units and the final outcome was 6 units.


The zoning classification of the lot was rsa-5. As you can imagine, this posed many issues due to lot size, location, and shape.


Our client came to us ¾ of the way through this project.  We took over after the RCO requested a second meeting to clarify a number of issues with the project; some including too many units, lack of a clear trash plan, and lack of a strong hardship argument.


Some neighbors brought up the idea of building three single family homes to avoid the need for a multifamily variance. This was not possible because the lot is L-shaped and is a rear lot.


One of our reasonings for the number of units was due to the lot size. Because the lot is 2,556 square feet, six of these units were allowed, “by-right”, dimensionally speaking. Meaning: If this lot was already zoned for multifamily and we were just looking to build on it, we would not have have to ask permission to build six units because the lot was already big enough to do so.


Let’s look at the math.


The rules state that dwelling units can be no less than 380 square feet for the first 1440 square feet of lot space. After the first 1440 square feet of lot space, units must be at least 480 square feet.


Here’s the math as it pertains to this project:


1,440 sqft. ÷ 380 sqft. = 4 units

2,556 sqft. (total lot size) – 1440 sqft. = 1,116 sqft. (leftover square footage of lot)

1,116 sqft. ÷ 480 sqft. = 2.325  (rounded down to equal 2)

4 units + 2 units = 6 units


We were only asking for a use variance, not a dimensional variance. We were not trying to fit more units than was allowed by the area aspects of the code.


The neighbors vote was all over the map, with the overall outcome being a ‘no’. The board was split 50/50.


There were enough legitimate reasons to convince the zoning board to vote 100% yes for the variance, specifically due to a few factors:


  1. The negotiation from 7 units to 6 units. The lot is so large, that 6 units still made sense to ZBA as long as there was a clear trash plan. The trash plan was private trash pickup with a shared trash room that all tenants would use. Additionally, we stressed that there would be a revolving door of developers asking for this number of units because anything less simply doesn’t make sense; financially, logistically, or design-wise.
  2. Because this is a rear lot, utilities are a major concern. The client would have to invest his own funds into running a sewer line from the property to the public sewer line. This is a large expense and undertaking.
  3. Beautification of the neighborhood: This lot attracted dumping because of it being hidden. Trees would also be planted along the sidewalk leading to the property.
  4. Activating the street: Being completely boxed-in and a rear property, this property was a nuisance to the neighborhood and consistently attracted crime. By building this structure, it would bring life and light to an otherwise dead and dark area.


Wait what about parking?


The street the property is located on already does not have parking because it is too skinny. parking was not enough of an issue for it to be a reason this project didn’t go through. All of the reasoning and hardships combined were enough to overrule the ‘parking’ issue.


Overall, this was an extremely favorable outcome, especially after all of the complications early-on. We were thrilled to hear approvals across the board (except from the planning commission.)


Parties we collaborated with for this project:

Attorney: Joseph Console (Console Matison LLP)

Architects: Supreme Architects

Consultant: Dennis Lee


October 23, 2017


Residential and Multifamily, Variances & Special Exceptions