Appeals to zoning board trending downward

In a possible sign that Philadelphia’s rewritten zoning code is having its intended effect, the number of cases heard by the Zoning Board of Adjustment continues to decline even as development in the city appears to be booming.

The ZBA is on track to hear a total of 1,050 appeals this fiscal year, according to the Nutter Administration’s Five-Year Plan released last week. That’s down from 1,120 hearings last year and 1,312 hearings the year before. The annual average in the three preceding years was more than 1,500 hearings, according to the report.

Developers go to the zoning board when they want to build projects that are bigger or denser than the zoning code allows or use properties for activities the code prohibits. One of the major goals of rewriting the code was to reduce the zoning board’s caseload by simplifying the rules and updating the zoning maps across the city.

While the rewritten code is shorter and simpler than the old one, the process of remapping every neighborhood in the city is ongoing. The Planning Commission is completing 18 individual district plans and preparing updated zoning ordinances for City Council members to introduce.

As of last summer, Council members had introduced just 10 percent of the remapping ordinances that the Planning Commission had prepared, according to Commission director Gary Jastrzab. The Commission estimated at the time that it had another 350 mapping ordinances to prepare.

So far, a third of the district plans have been completed. Planning is currently underway in the South District and the River Wards.

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