The New Code: Big Changes for Zoning in Philadelphia (part 4)

The New Code: Big Changes for Zoning in Philadelphia (part 4)

Part Four: Use Categories

We are now just a couple of weeks away from the August 22, 2012, effective date of Philadelphia's New Zoning Code. So far, in our Five-Part Series, we provided an overview of the New Code and explored the big changes in Community Involvement and Civic Design Review, as well as Base Zoning Districts and Overlay Districts. In this installment, we discuss Use Categories.

One hallmark of the New Code is the new approach to Uses. Previously, each Zoning District offered a detailed list of highly specific permitted Uses. For example, in the C-3 Commercial Zoning District, a number of specific permitted Uses were listed, such as: "Retail sale of picture frames, candles, ceramics, leather goods, with accessory making or assembling of same with hand tools only, not to exceed 1,000 square feet in gross floor space." Under the Old Code, if a Use was not individually listed for a District, it was assumed to be prohibited.

Use Categories, Subcategories and Specific Use Types

The New Code takes a much different approach. Rather than providing detailed lists of specific uses, Chapter 600 of the New Code organizes principal Uses according to 10 very general Use Categories:

  1. Residential
  2. Parks and Open Space
  3. Public, Civic and Institutional
  4. Office
  5. Retail Sales
  6. Commercial Services
  7. Vehicle and Vehicular Sales and Services
  8. Wholesale, Distribution and Storage
  9. Industrial
  10. Urban Agricultural.

The general Use Categories are then broken down into narrower Use Subcategories, according to certain common characteristics (such as physical traits or impact on surrounding area). For example, the Residential Use Category contains two Subcategories: Household Living and Group Living. Similarly, the Parks and Open Space Use Category contains three Subcategories: Natural Resource Preservation, Passive Recreation and Active Recreation.

Finally, in some cases the Subcategories are further divided into Specific Use Types, which require different regulation than the Subcategory. For instance, under the Residential Use Category, the Household Living Subcategory is further broken down into four Specific Use Types: Single-Family, Two-Family, Multi-Family and Caretaker Quarters.

Use Tables

Guidance is provided by the New Code in the form of Use Tables, contained in Section 14-602. Separate Tables address Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Special Purpose Districts. For each Table, the various Zoning Districts are set out along the top, and Use Categories, Subcategories and Types are listed down the side of the Table. Use Tables are essential to understanding where principal Uses are permitted under the New Code.

While the New Code provides assistance in determining how to categorize a particular Use, the Department of License & Inspections ("L&I) is authorized to make the official determination of which Use Category, Subcategory or Type is most appropriate for a particular Use.

Some Notable Changes

The New Code makes extensive changes to the regulation of Uses, and seeks to modernize the handling of Uses, to better respond to current and future needs. Here are some notable changes:

  • Previously, Hotels were treated the same as Multi-Family Residential Uses. Under the New Code, Hotels fall under the Commercial Use Category (as part of the Visitor Accommodations Subcategory).
  • Fitness Clubs were not specifically listed as a Use under the Old Code. Now, they fall under the Commercial Services Use Category (as part of the Personal Services Subcategory).
  • The New Code contains numerous updates and changes to the manner in which Daycare Centers are regulated.
  • Previously, only two types of Restaurants were listed: Sit-down Restaurants and Take-out Restaurants. The New Code adds a third type: Prepared Food Shops (something of a hybrid, in between sit-down and take-out).
  • Under the Industrial Use Category, a new Subcategory has been created for Artist Studios and Artisan Industrial (small scale, using light equipment and hand tools).
  • Urban Agriculture is a brand-new Use Category, part of the New Code's overall attempt to foster a greener and healthier City. It is intended to encourage more community gardens and urban horticulture and farms.

Accessory Uses and Structures

In addition to regulating principal Uses, Chapter 600 also provides rules for Accessory Uses and Structures, which are subordinate to and customarily found in association with the principal Use/Structure. The New Code regulates modern Accessory Uses such as Home Occupations and Accessory Dwelling Units (for example, in-law suites). It provides controls not only for Decks and Satellite Dishes, but also more modern structures like Small Wind Energy Systems and Solar Energy Collectors, which are broadly permitted throughout the City in an effort to encourage energy efficiency. And for the first time, the New Code permits Accessory Agricultural Structures in certain areas of the City, to encourage urban farming.

Stay tuned next week for Part Five, the last installment in this Series, where we will look at the New Code's treatment of Dimensional Controls and Parking.


Part One: An Overview

Part Two: Community Involvement and Civic Design Review

Part Three: Base Districts and Overlays

Coming Soon:

Part Five: Dimensional Controls and Parking

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