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Land Use & Zoning Archives

Medical marijuana forces zoning code changes


One year ago, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation that made the growing and sale of marijuana for medical purposes legal in the commonwealth. Now, county boards and zoning boards in the Philadelphia suburbs and elsewhere are beginning to consider how their zoning ordinances must be changed to accommodate the limited legalization of marijuana.

Issuance of zoning permit angers Society Hill residents.


Society Hill is one of many historic districts in Philadelphia, and the grant of a zoning permit can invoke review by the city's Historical Commission and design review board. In some circumstances, the grant of a permit can also stir up the neighbors. The recent grant of a conditional use permit to replace a grocery super market with an apartment building has caused resentment among residents of Society Hill, even though the new use is permitted by the zoning code.

Neighbors sue to overturn zoning approval for cancer center


A long-brewing land use dispute in the Philadelphia suburb of Swarthmore is now headed for state court. The case centers on a proposal to use a large house on Chester Road for temporary housing for cancer patients and their caregivers. In late December 2016, the Swarthmore Borough Council granted the care center's sponsor, a non-profit organization known as HEADstrong, an accommodation that permitted operation of the center in an RB Residential Zoning District.

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.

Understanding special exceptions in Philadelphia zoning code


The Philadelphia Zoning Code contains many specialized terms - variance, special exception and rezoning, to name just three - that can seem confusing or opaque. An understanding of these terms is necessary to evaluate the types of permits that may be required for any residential or commercial real estate development. This post will address the concept of special exceptions.

Historical Preservation in Philadelphia


Philadelphia contains many buildings that were built over 100 years ago; some even date back to the early part of the 18th century. In 1955, the city created the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC) and charged it with preserving historically significant buildings. The PHC has two basic functions: identifying historically significant structures or parts of structures and reviewing projects that involve the modification or demolition of structures that have been or may be designated as historically significant.

Plan to develop Chester County farm sparks controversy


Crebilly Farm comprises 322 acres of rolling rural land in Westtown Township in Chester County, one of the Pennsylvania's fastest growing communities. Fifteen years ago, the town's comprehensive plan identified this land for future residential development. Now that the future appears to be here, township officials are having second thoughts about the kind and amount of development that should be allowed.

Judge allows federal lawsuit over Bensalem mosque to continue


This blog has previously written about the decision by the Bensalem Township's to deny a zoning permit for a new mosque. In July 2016, the United States Justice Department sued the township alleging that the zoning board's denial of an application for a variance was based upon religious discrimination. In important ruling, the judge who is presiding over the lawsuit issued an order denying the township's motion to dismiss the suit.

Possible church demolition prompts preservation talks


Philadelphia and its suburbs contain many churches more than a century old, and many of these churches are no longer used by an active congregation. The structures themselves, however, are often seen as a valuable architectural resource that deserves preservation, not demolition. The nature of this conflict is once again on display in the suburban township of Narberth where plans for a commercial real estate development have stirred the interest of local preservationists.

Statements of Support for developer do not bind township


Real estate developers in Philadelphia and its suburbs frequently seek informal backing from zoning officials before investing money in a project. Occasionally, an informal expression of approval by one or more members of a zoning board can lead to a dispute about the board's intentions if the project is formally rejected. A recent court ruling has shown how verbal assurances of support for a project do not bind the municipality.

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