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Understanding the role of RCOs in Philadelphia's zoning process

This blog has written about many conflicts between commercial real estate developers and neighborhood organizations regarding preservation of environmental amenities or sites with historical or cultural significance. Many neighborhood organizations in Philadelphia are merely informal groups of people who share a common attitude toward a particular development. These groups often do not realize that they can obtain special status under the Philadelphia Zoning Code by becoming a Registered Community Organization. RCOs are entitled to receive special notice of certain matters before the Zoning Board and to participate in these proceedings.

To become an RCO, a group must first file an application with the City Planning Commission and must be a volunteer organization, a non-profit corporation or a political committee representing a political party within a ward. The application must demonstrate that the group has adopted a statement of purpose indicating its interest in land use, zoning or similar subject. The RCO must also have registered boundaries and a geographic area of concern that cannot encompass more than 20,000 separate parcels. The organization must conduct regular and open meetings on a regular basis. All leaders of the group must be chosen by the body at large.

If the Planning Commission approves the application for registration, the organization will be designated as an approved RCO. The advantage of registering as an RCO is the right to receive notice from the Planning Commission of every application that seeks a special exception or variance or is deemed to require civic design review for any parcel within the RCO's registered boundaries. The RCO may thereafter designate one or more representatives to appear at the Planning Commission hearing to present testimony.

Anyone wishing to form an RCO may wish to consult a lawyer who is experienced in the city's zoning code. A knowledge attorney can assist in preparing the application to the planning commission and can also assist in preparing testimony to be given at any hearing at which the RCO's representatives intend to appear.

Source: Philadelphia Zoning Code §14-303(11A), Registered Community Organizations, accessed on Dec. 25, 2016

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