This post is just as much a reference post for myself as it is to help anyone else out there interested in building a house in Philly. There can be a lot of hurdles and forms to fill out, but if you know what needs to be done step-by-step, it goes a lot smoother. I have learned a lot over the process of the last few months while finalizing preparations to build and will probably be adding more to this list as we get closer to our second project.
I would imagine that this process would be very similar in other major cities, but obviously each city will be different. I have tried to include links to web pages and forms if they are available to make it easier. This will be a three-part post that will cover the main steps as follows:
- Building Permits
In order to build a new house on a vacant lot in Philadelphia, you must first apply for and receive a zoning permit. The basic process is listed below, but for more thorough information, please visit http://www.phila.gov/zoningarchive/ and visit the Zoning section.
- Determine the type of zoning that exists on the lot currently and review the zoning code to see what the acceptable zoning uses are (easy to build) and what may require a zoning variance (much more work). Tip: R10 or R10-A is the easiest zoning classification to build a home on.
- Working with your architect, determine if you can build without needed a variance or if you want a design element that will require one. Tip: Variances will most often be needed if you want to build over 35′ tall, have a curb cut for a driveway/garage or build on more than 70% of the area of the lot.
- Have your architect develop a plot plan to scale that meets the plot plan requirements of the City of Philadelphia. Tip: Use the dimensions shown on the deed (instructions for obtaining deed in plot plan link) and the street and sidewalk dimensions (legal street breakdown) shown on the City Plans records (215-686-5565) or you may have problems.
- Fill out the Zoning and Use Application form that will go along with your plot plans when submitting to L&I (Licenses & Inspections).
- Review the Philadelphia Zoning Checklist to make sure you did not forget anything major. Tip: This is a really good checklist. Read it twice.
- Take 6 copies of your plot plans (8 if going to the streets department first) along with your Zoning Application and proof that you own (or will own) the lot to the Municipal Services Building at 1404 John F Kennedy Blvd, 19102. Tip: Make sure you have drawings to scale and that all items that may overhang the sidewald (stairs/stoop, window overhangs, balconies, bay windows…) are marked on your plot plans.
- If you have a curb cut or anything encroaching onto or over the sidewalk, you will need to visit the Streets Dept on the 9th floor at suite 940. They are nice people and will stamp all of your plans and sign the back of your zoning application if you and your architect have done everything right on the plot plans.
- Next, head down to the basement and grab a ticket from L&I for Zoning, take a seat and wait for your turn. Tip: Go early in the morning or when it is raining for the shortest wait. You can also grab a number and leave to come back later. Just tell them you’ve returned so they call your number again when you get back.
- Submit your paperwork to the friendly people, pay your $25 fee and do what they say. Tip: If you are in a real hurry and can’t wait 3-4 weeks then ask for your form to be expedited and pay the extra $420. Ouch!
- If you’ve done everything right and are not seeking any variances, you should get your zoning permit in the mail in a few short weeks.
- If you were Refused or received a Notice of Referral you will need to follow the instructions on the notice or on this page to file an appeal. This will most likely mean presenting your project in front of the appropriate neighborhood group and then attending an assigned ZBA hearing. Tip: If you are a corporation, you will need a zoning attorney for this process and it is a good idea to consult one even if you are not a corporation as you could be delayed for many months if not handled properly.
That’s it for the zoning section. Next time we’ll talk about the building permit process.
If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.
There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.