Happy New Year! Permit Philly hopes everyone has recovered from the Mummer apocalypse and a month of eggnog. Since we have a brand-new year on our hands, I thought it would be a good idea to review what’s changed in Philadelphia permits over the last year, and explain how the changes affect you. So here are the top five things to know about Philly permits in 2019.
The City of Philadelphia can be a cruel mistress. When filing permits, it’s common to be told that the thing you’ve done 176 times needs to be laid out a different way the 177th time – but then, on the 178th time, to go back to the regular way. Sometimes, the way the application process works depends on which staffer is on lunch. This is life on the mean streets of 1401 JFK Boulevard.
But every now and again, the City smiles upon us all, and cuts away some of its own red tape. It has recently cut some tape around its troubled sign permits by creating what we in the permit game have previously only dreamt of: EZ sign permits.
You’re ready to open a restaurant in Philadelphia. You have everything you need: a great building, all the right equipment on order, a dedicated team, and some amazing recipes. Now you just need to get a food license from the City of Philadelphia. Is that just one form? Maybe a little inspection?
Not quite. While you do need an inspection from the Health Department to operate a restaurant, and there is a simple form that says “Food License,” actually getting complete approval to open a restaurant in Philadelphia can be a long and complicated journey. As Philly Health Commissioner Thomas Farley once said, “The night is dark and full of terrors.”
Okay, maybe he didn’t actually say that. But getting officially certified to open a restaurant in Philadelphia can be a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re in for. Fear not! Permit Philly is here to break down the process for you.
In this space, we’ve explained what zoning districts are, and summarized the three main categories of zoning district: commercial, residential (single-family and multi-family), and industrial. We’ve even reviewed the basics of sign permitting. So you might think that our Philadelphia zoning guide is complete!
… you would be wrong.
Having a zoning code with detailed regulations for each parcel of land in the city might seem like the definition of a zoning code. But Philly’s zoning code doesn’t merely define types of parcel. It also sorts those parcels into geographic units. In certain areas of the city, it’s not enough to know that your property is considered RSA-5 (that is, residential single-family, attached). Your property might also fall under regulations for the Center City district – CTR – or the Central Delaware district – CDO. There are twenty of these in all, and they are called Overlay Districts.
Let’s talk about parking rules in Philadelphia. You have to abide by them, even though you may not know what they are, and every living human in the city has a very angry opinion about them. Many RCOs rage against developments without parking. Residents want their curbside parking secured – keep the new people away from my spot! is the cry from people who moved to Northern Liberties only six years ago. As more people move to Philly, the tide of grumbling increases. Everyone is angry about parking.
And this anger reaches City Council pretty quickly. Right now, the Council is debating a new bill to require stricter parking rules in Philadelphia. [update: this was written in 2018, but Council is pretty much always debating parking bills.] Specifically, the bill would require more parking spaces to be constructed with each new development in the City. You might have seen some of Plan Philly’s outstanding reporting on this – take a look at this interview and this article for a good introduction.
Since the future of parking rules in Philadelphia are in some uncertainty, I want to quickly review the overall zoning rules for parking spots in the city, and talk about the ways in which the new bill might change them.
Zoning Guide to the Philadelphia Sign Permit
Welcome back to Permit Philly’s Philadelphia zoning guide! In this series, we’ve covered commercial zoning in Philadelphia, single-family residential zoning, multi-family residential zoning, and that sweet sweet hipster zoning. Now we’re going to talk about the Philadelphia sign permit. Warning: this story features graphic descriptions of bureaucracy.
Welcome to Permit Philly’s RSA Zoning Guide!
If you’d like to see the other parts of this series, click here.
Hello again! After last week’s discussion of commercial zoning in Philly, it’s time for some lighter reading in our Philadelphia zoning guide: residential zoning! Specifically: RSA zoning districts!
I can feel your excitement.
But this stuff is important, because most of Philly is zoned residential. Most of the zoning or permitting cases I’ve worked on involve a homeowner asking, “Can I do with my house?”
You are more than welcome to contact Permit Philly to ask that or any other question. But in the meantime, here are some answers to your essential concerns about residential zoning – specifically, Philly’s RSA zoning classification.
Welcome to Permit Philly’s Philadelphia Zoning Guide!
I was recently at a neighborhood meeting where a member of the group casually observed that the Philadelphia Code allows for an 8.5-foot-wide garage, but should really allow only a 9.5-foot-wide garage. If you are this person, you might not need this blog post. But for most of us in Philly – and especially for developers and ambitious homeowners – It’s useful to go over the uses and general Philadelphia zoning rules about buildings to get a sense of what the City does and doesn’t want. So here’s our Philadelphia zoning guide series.
First, we’ll handle the commercial buildings that also allow residential use: Commercial MiXed-use, or CMX.