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7 Zoning Mistakes Every Philadelphia Business Owner Must Avoid

Zoning lawyer with hands crossed with skyline

Zoning Laws in Philadelphia 

Understanding zoning laws is crucial for business owners in Philadelphia. Zoning regulates how properties can be used in different areas of the city. It sets out the permitted uses for residential, commercial, industrial and other zones. Failing to comply with zoning rules can lead to denied permits, stop work orders and legal problems.

Our team of zoning attorneys has 35+ years of experience in zoning law, and has advised clients navigating zoning permits, variances, and code. Call Davis Bucco & Makara today at 610-238-0880 for more information.

1. Not Checking Zoning Restrictions Before Buying Property

Before purchasing a property, zoning laws in Philadelphia must be reviewed to ensure your intended use is allowed. Industrial zones prohibit retail businesses, while commercial zones may not permit things like storage yards. If the zoning does not work for your plans, finding a zoning attorney in Philadelphia can help assess options like seeking a variance or rezoning the property. Taking on a property before confirming zoning is a costly mistake.

2. Assuming Zoning Carries Over With New Ownership

When a property changes hands, existing zoning does not automatically carry over to the new owner. The buyer must apply for the specific zoning designation from the City of Philadelphia. Simply having the same business type as the previous owner does not guarantee the zoning will stay the same. A zoning attorney can navigate the process of re-establishing zoning.

3. Failing to Get Zoning Approval for Renovations

Major renovations like adding on to an existing building require zoning and building permits. Even when the use remains the same, large construction projects likely need zoning approval. Dining areas, signs and awnings also fall under zoning regulations. Skipping this step may lead to violations, fines and orders to remove unapproved construction. Consult a Philadelphia zoning lawyer before starting any major renovations.

4. Trying to Change Property Uses Without Rezoning

Changing the use of a property from residential to commercial or from retail to restaurant requires rezoning approval. The processes to rezone property take time, effort and knowledge. An experienced zoning attorney in Philadelphia handles zoning change applications and represents clients at zoning hearings. Attempting to bypass rezoning and operate under the radar almost always backfires.

5. Assuming Your Zoning Allows All Commercial Uses

General commercial zoning allows many uses but not all. For example, a property zoned Neighborhood Commercial may prohibit bars, nightclubs or drive-thrus. Carefully read the municipal code to see which uses are permitted, special exceptions or prohibited. A commercial zoning lawyer in Philadelphia can clarify what your zoning does and does not allow.

6. Performing Unpermitted Construction Work

Major construction projects require permits from the Department of Licenses and Inspections. Unpermitted work can be extremely costly. The city may issue violations, stop work orders and fines. You may even be required to undo or remove unapproved construction. A Philadelphia zoning lawyer can help businesses apply for proper permits and avoid compliance issues during construction.

7. Ignoring Zoning Rules for Signs

Most zoning codes limit the size, height, design, placement and number of business signs. Overlooking sign restrictions can get companies in trouble, as signs are highly visible to inspectors. A zoning attorney can determine precisely what signage your zoning permits and walk you through the sign permit process with the city.

Understanding and following Philadelphia's complex zoning rules is no easy task. Construction litigation attorney in the city rely on zoning professionals to help clients make strategic property decisions and avoid issues. Investing in experienced zoning counsel provides a major return by identifying risks and preventing costly violations or enforcement actions.

Keytake Aways:

  • Check zoning regulations before purchasing or leasing property

  • Rezoning may be required if the use of a property changes

  • Building additions and renovations need zoning approval

  • Permits are required for major construction projects

  • Signs, outdoor seating and other site changes are zoning-related

  • Legal professionals can help businesses follow zoning rules

Frequently Asked Questions About Philadelphia Zoning Laws

1. What are the different zoning classifications in Philadelphia?

Philadelphia has base zoning districts including Residential, Commercial, Industrial, and Special Purpose. Within each category are multiple sub-classifications such as RSD-3 Residential, CMX-2 Commercial, and ICMX Industrial. Zoning establishes permitted uses, densities, heights, setbacks and other standards for each zone.

2. How can I find the zoning for a property in Philadelphia?

The Philadelphia Planning Commission has an interactive Zoning Map that shows the zoning classifications for all property parcels within the city limits. You can search for an address or intersection to view the applicable zoning. Zoning maps are also available through private companies online.

3. What does it mean if a use is allowed by special exception?

Special exceptions are uses that may be permitted if special criteria are met. An application must be made to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) to get approval for special exception uses. Examples are radio transmission facilities in residential zones or animal shelters in industrial zones.

4. How long does it take to get a zoning permit in Philadelphia?

It typically takes 4-6 weeks to get a zoning permit or license in Philadelphia. More complex reviews can take longer. Zoning permits are required for changing property use, new construction, additions, and signage or site alterations.

5. What happens if I violate Philadelphia zoning laws?

Consequences for zoning violations include fines, stop work orders, having to undo or remove unapproved construction, legal action, and denial of zoning permits. Significant violations can even result in misdemeanor charges. Businesses should consult zoning professionals to ensure compliance.

Selecting the Right Zoning Lawyer for Your Case 

Philadelphia zoning laws can be frustrating and complex. You don’t need to navigate these obstacles alone. Reach out to our experienced team at Davis Bucco & Makara by calling 610-238-0880