Coronavirus and Philly Permits III

Welcome to Year 48 of the pandemic afterscape! While we spend most of our time in the bunkers we used to call our homes, Licenses and Inspections is still churning out permits remotely. Here’s the latest update we have about Philly permits during the coronavirus shutdown.

Construction is now allowed for ALL Philly permits! (Before May 26th, only permits issued before March 20th were allowed to start up.)

Rejoice! Any Philly permit can authorize immediate construction! This wasn’t the case all through April and May. Licenses and Inspections gave us no word on when this might change, but Philly permits issued after March 20th may finally, as of May 26th, be used to authorize construction.

Why was construction delayed for permits issued after March 20th? We don’t know for sure, but the guess here is that the City needed to clear out existing applications while updating the eCLIPSE system (which has crashed a few times already). We’re guessing that they simply didn’t have enough time and manpower to inspect and clear new construction projects – again, that’s a guess, because the City never gave us their reasoning. The important thing is that construction in Philly can start again.

When you do restart (or start) construction, keep in mind the jobsite rules are very strict

Read ‘em and weep: the City has a long list of measures you have to take to keep your jobsite safe during the pandemic, starting with the designation of a “Pandemic Safety Officer” – there’s a test to prove it, too. Personally, I think these measures are prudent (well, except the Pandemic Safety Officer – that’s a little much). Most contractors I talk to don’t like the regulations. But however you feel about them, these are the rules, and they will be enforced by the City. To keep working, make sure everyone has a mask, is staying far apart, and is abiding by the new rules. It’s the only way to keep your project permitted by Philly during the coronavirus shutdown.

About that emergency construction…

Make-safe permits, as discussed previously, are still not eligible for online application – those applications must be made by sending a request into L&I, then applying in person. It’s a bizarre decision, but that’s the way it works right now.

Other emergency Philly permits can be applied for online, in theory… although it’s not clear what constitutes an emergency, according to L&I, that isn’t a make-safe permit.

So, except for make-safe permits…

Try to do everything online

While the City’s eCLIPSE system might not be the most friendly to the user, it does work! In fact, it’s about the only thing that’s working (relatively) well in the Philly permit process during the coronavirus shutdown. So if you have a permit application that does not require a variance or an appeal to the Board of Buildi ng Standards, then you can get it through eCLIPSE! (Or you can ask Permit Philly to get it for you – we’re open as long as the City is!)

You can also register for licenses online. If you need to get a contractor’s license or a rental license, you can get that online. Oh, and about that…

Make sure you’re registered in eCLIPSE – even if you don’t get the permits yourself

If you’re a contractor, architect, lawyer, or engineer, you need to be registered in eCLIPSE! Even if you hire Permit Philly to file the actual application – which, please do! – you still need to get your credentials in the system so that you can be easily notified, added to applications, and upload documents directly to the system.

You can also have Permit Philly set up an eCLIPSE account for you, if you prefer! Just call or email.

You might not want to open a restaurant during these times, but you can, believe it or not!

The Office of Food Protection is still doing inspections! While the market for a new sit-down restaurant isn’t great right now, if you’re opening a new take-out space or changing ownership of an existing restuarant, OFP will process that request for you – which is part of how you can get a food license. Plus, food trucks and walk-up ordering restaurants can legally operate in Philly, as long as social distancing is maintained.

Most importantly, outdoor dining regulations have been temporarily relaxed! You can seat patrons outside, as long as they are six feet apart and your seating doesn’t block any entrance. The review process for these permits is only three days, too: read all about it right here.

If you applied on paper, you can pick your approved permit up from the City by scheduling a meeting

This only works for approved, paid permits, but you can find the scheduling document right here. No word yet on whether or not this service will be closed at any point.

Again: if you can at all file within the online system, do so! It’s a lot easier these days, even if the system isn’t perfect.

Appeals (and variances) are severely slowed down

Last message I got from the Zoning Board told me I’d hear from them soon about new ways to hold meetings and process outstanding cases. That was… twelve days ago. My follow-up emails went nowhere. So I really can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen next with the ZBA. All I can say for certain is that no Zoning Board hearings or Board of Building Standards hearings took place in the last two months, and there won’t be any until June 19th.

The group Philadelphia 3.0 has reported word of online meetings for the Registered Community Organizations – however, there’s been no official decision or notice as of this point (May 15th). City officials have guidance from Harrisburg about online meetings, but the Zoning Board hasn’t actually made any plans to hold online meetings. Permit Philly is happy to help you get your variance case started, but we’re not sure just yet when you’ll get the variance itself. Frankly – and this is tough – you should prepare for 7-9 months, since there’s now a two-and-a-half-month backlog to sort out.

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