City zoning code tops Fox Chase meeting

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

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