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Height limits cause problem for parcel with steep slopes

This blog has frequently written about zoning disputes involving the conversion of a property's use to residential from industrial, commercial or less intensive uses such as churches or educational institutions. The opponents to such conversions usually point to increased traffic, parking difficulties or an undesirable change in a neighborhood's character. Now, a land use dispute in south Philadelphia shows how the terrain of a parcel can arouse neighborhood opposition.

The Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustments is currently holding hearings on an application to build a 65-unit apartment building, with 60 parking spaces, on a parcel that is located in an area that formerly comprised mostly industrial uses. The project requires rezoning to multi-family residential and five variances. No objections to the re-zoning have been made, but a local neighborhood association, the Manayunk Neighborhood Council, has raised objections to variances that would remove or alter the height limit for structures on the parcel in question.

The zoning code imposes a height limit of 38 feet above the flood plain, and a large portion of the tract slopes sharply. If the height limit were enforced without change, most of the parcel would be unbuildable. The developer's attorney has argued that the height limit constitutes a hardship that justifies the grant of a variance that would ease the height restrictions. The neighborhood association has also claimed that the parcel is susceptible to flooding and that the proposed apartment development would have no adequate escape route. The Zoning Board of Adjustments plans to continue the hearing on the project in mid-November.

In a crowded urban area such as Philadelphia and its immediate suburbs, the city's zoning code can pose any number of obstacles to changing the land use of a single parcel. Anyone considering such a project will benefit from consulting a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the City's zoning and planning process. Such a consultation can provide a useful analysis of the necessary permits and approvals that must be obtained and a strategy for moving the project forward by limiting delays that might be caused by objections to the project.

Source: Montgomery News, "Development at 3811 Main St. in Manayunk faces civc association opposition in zoning hearing," Eric Fitzsimmons, Nov. 3, 2015

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