Members of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association expected to hear about a relatively minor zoning case in the neighborhood, but instead got a lesson on a major flaw in the city’s new zoning code.
During the FCHA’s bimonthly meeting on Nov. 14, City Councilman Brian O’Neill told residents that the new zoning code has no formal classification for twin-duplex apartment buildings. The new zoning code took effect on Aug. 31. O’Neill sat on the ad hoc commission that guided the new code’s creation, but he has been a leading critic of many of the provisions adopted in the code.
Alberino Ciocca Jr. learned of the problem firsthand when he applied to the city for a rental license for his twin-duplex apartment building at 8124 Ryers Ave.
The building is not unusual for the neighborhood, according to FCHA president Matt Braden. In fact, the block has three or four sets of twin-duplexes in a row. They were built as multi-family dwellings and have always been used that way, Braden said.
However, the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections refused to grant the rental license to Ciocca, claiming that the property is non-conforming with the zoning code. The owner’s appeal with the Zoning Board of Adjustment is pending.
A closer look at tax records for the property adds confusion to the case. The city’s Office of Property Assessment lists it under the “R-5” zoning classification for “single family row and twin” homes, although that designation does not exist in the new code.
Meanwhile, a separate subsection of the same tax record describes the property as an apartment building with two-to-four units — that is, a multi-family dwelling.
Even under the old zoning code, the property shouldn’t have been classified as R-5, O’Neill said. Rather, it should have been categorized as R-5A, a designation created specifically for twin-duplex dwellings.
The councilman noted that other twin-duplex owners have already experienced similar problems due to the lack of a suitable zoning classification. In one case, fire destroyed a building. But when the owner sought to rebuild it, the city denied him the necessary permits, so he had to file for a zoning variance.
“If there’s anything that needs to be done [on the building], they have to go to the zoning board,” O’Neill said.
Ironically, a primary justification for revamping the city’s zoning code was to reduce the zoning board’s volume of cases and hearings, according to the councilman.
The Fox Chase Homeowners Association does not plan to contest Ciocca’s zoning variance application.
• The next Fox Chase Homeowners Association meeting will be on Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 7:30 p.m. at American Legion Post 366, 7976 Oxford Ave. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org