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Philadelphia's Civic Design Review adds to zoning review process

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's administration has pushed many changes to the land use review and approval process in the city, including a revised zoning code and citywide master plan, but perhaps none of these changes has as much potential for controversy as the Civic Design Review process.

According to the City's web site, the Civic Design Review process is intended to provide a "public forum" in which large residential and commercial real estate projects can be "evaluated against consistent standards" to "address the way in which a large proposed development may have an impact on its neighborhood." Civic Design Review is required for projects that create more than 100,000 sq. ft. of new gross floor area or creates more than 100 additional dwelling units. The CDR process is overseen by a committee that functions as a subcommittee of the Planning Commission. One of the most important features of the CDR process is that the developer meet with neighbors and take steps to address any concerns.

The CDR process is not intended to make stylistic determinations for projects that require review. Instead, the committee must judge whether a proposed project looks like it is part of a large city and not a suburb. The committee's decision is merely advisory, and any final judgement on a project is made the by City Council.

Finding one's way through the maze of ordinances and regulations that govern new construction projects in Philadelphia can be confusing and frustrating even for an experienced commercial property owner. Anyone planning a project that required Civic Design Review may wish to confer with an experienced real estate attorney. Such a conference can provide a helpful overview of the various licenses and approvals that will be required and suggestions for making the approval process as efficient as possible.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, "Changing Skyline: In new developments, Philadelphia's urban dreams meet suburban reality," Inga Saffron, Oct. 22, 2015

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