City ‘snafu’ blamed for Fox Chase zoning issue

There are three identical sets of twin duplexes on the 8100-block of Ryers Avenue in Fox Chase, and 8124 is part of them. They’ve always been duplexes, and city documents recognize them as such.

But city documents also list 8124 – as well as many other properties throughout the city – as having a different zoning classification. As Fox Chase Homeowners Association President Matt Braden explained at Wednesday night’s meeting, records for the property state both that the home is zoned for single-family occupancy and that it’s used as a multi-family dwelling.

The paperwork issue sent the owner to the FCHA with the hopes of getting a variance to legalize his use of the property as s duplex – the way it’s always been used. Braden said the FCHA will send a letter of approval to the Zoning Board of Adjustment – a move that contradicts the organization’s usual stance against multi-family dwellings, but Braden said was logical given the circumstances.

Records on the city’s Board of Revision of Taxes website also indicate 8124 Ryers Avenue is “apt. 2-4 units, 2sty” and “single family row and twin.” Online records for the nearby duplexes show the same confusing zoning and use information.

According to Councilman Brian O’Neill, R-10th, this anomaly exists in properties throughout the city, and he recalled one instance in which a homeowner needed a variance to rebuild a duplex after a fire because city documents did not properly indicate that the house had already been a duplex.

“It’s a glitch in the system,” O’Neill said. “It’s a snafu.” The city doesn’t have paper documents for properties that go back past 1990, but 8124 Ryers Ave’s documents – and those for many other properties – somehow got lost in the shuffle or incorrectly entered into the database, causing the confusion.

O’Neill has been tightly focused on zoning over the last few years as the city worked to develop and adopt a new zoning code, and now that it’s in place, he’s one of two City Council members in the spotlight for already trying to change parts of the code Philadelphia took four years to implement. That bill focuses on denser neighborhoods prone to new development, but O’Neill spent time addressing Fox Chase residents about points in the new code he said he’ll continue to try to change, all the while pushing for a remapping of the zoning districts with community input.

While some elements of the new zoning code might work in the favor of Center City-area neighborhoods, O’Neill said parts of the code that make it easier to obtain variances for certain types of non-residential properties could work against neighborhoods in his district.

“I’ll show you neighborhoods that turned in the last 20 years,” he said, ” and a lot of it has to do with zoning.”

The 8124 Ryers Ave. property was the only zoning item on the Fox Chase Homeowners Association meeting agenda Wednesday, but with O’Neill elected to another council term just last year, zoning is likely to remain at the forefront of many Northeast civic association meetings to come.

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