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Zoning Board listens to neighbors, denies variance for apartments

Zoning disputes frequently pit neighbors against a developer or against the city planning staff. In a recent decision involving an application for a variance to allow construction of apartments, the Philadelphia Zoning Board voted with the neighbors and against its own planning staff's recommendations.

The dispute involved a plan to build a four story apartment building with commercial spaces on a parcel at the corner of Wharton and Ninth Streets, across from a popular restaurant. The parcel was originally occupied by a church. In 1989, after the church was demolished, the zoning was changed to residential in response to neighborhood opposition to construction of a White Castle hamburger restaurant. The White Castle project was abandoned, and the parcel has remained empty ever since.

A developer recently submitted a request for a variance that would allow construction of an 18-unit apartment building on the site. The proposal included five commercial spaces on the first floor. After an extensive review of the variance request and surrounding land uses, the planning commission recommended granting the variance.

Upon learning of the plan, the residents of the neighborhood organized a campaign to oppose the project. After hearing both sides of the case, the Zoning Board voted 4-0 to deny the permit, siding with the neighbors and rejecting the advice of its own staff.

Anyone who is involved in such a dispute, regardless of whether the person's viewpoint is support or opposition to the project, may benefit from consulting an attorney who specializes in real estate and land use law. Such an attorney can provide a useful analysis of the zoning code provisions that govern the matter and can offer a helpful estimate of the chances of winning or losing.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, "Zoning board nixes apartment complex across from Pat's Steaks," Maria Panaritis, June 18, 2015

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