Northeast Times

Community organizations can expect changes in zoning procedures

How and when com­munity or­gan­iz­a­tions find out about loc­al zon­ing is­sues, and how much they find out is chan­ging. 

Kath­leen Lam­bert of the City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion ex­plained changes in zon­ing pro­ced­ures to Great­er Bustleton Civic League mem­bers dur­ing their March 26 ses­sion at the Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on on Red Li­on Road.

Jack O’Hara, the league’s pres­id­ent, said the new pro­cess will keep the civic group in the dark for a while about why an own­er needs Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment ap­prov­al to do something on a prop­erty.

The league knows an own­er has been told an OK is needed from the zon­ers be­cause its of­ficers will be in­formed by the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, but they won’t be told right away why the OK is needed.

That’s like be­ing told there’s a 50 per­cent off sale at a mar­ket, but not be­ing told what ex­actly is be­ing marked down, O’Hara said in a March 27 phone in­ter­view. Lam­bert ex­plained the zon­ing ap­peals pro­cess works like this:

• An own­er ap­plies to the De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions to do something on a prop­erty. An ex­ample could be the own­er wants to build a large shed in a back yard.

• L&I sees the size of the shed is con­trary to what city code al­lows in the prop­erty’s neigh­bor­hood, so it re­fuses to is­sue the per­mit.

• If the own­er still wants the shed, he or she must ap­ply to the ZBA for a spe­cial ex­cep­tion or a zon­ing vari­ance.

To that point, the pro­ced­ure is what it was be­fore the new zon­ing code star­ted be­ing used in Au­gust 2012. Pre­vi­ously, ap­plic­ants could ask for zon­ing board hear­ings. Own­ers could ar­range to ask the sup­port of neigh­bor­hood or­gan­iz­a­tions, and the zon­ers would con­sider what loc­al groups had to say about the own­ers’ pro­pos­als.

• Now, un­der new rules, Lam­bert said, the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion has sev­en days to tell a neigh­bor­hood group — defined as a Re­cog­nized Com­munity Or­gan­iz­a­tion — that the ap­plic­ant wants a vari­ance. This is where O’Hara said the neigh­bor­hood group is not yet told why the vari­ance is needed.

• The RCO has 45 days to set up a meet­ing with the ap­plic­ant. 

• The ap­plic­ant must in­form — usu­ally by fli­ers — neigh­bors with­in 200 feet of the prop­erty in ques­tion about the meet­ing and the zon­ing ap­plic­a­tion.

“When do I find out what the vari­ance is about?” O’Hara asked again at the March 27 ses­sion. “I don’t know what they’re ask­ing for. … I don’t know what the is­sue is.”

Dur­ing a March 27 phone in­ter­view, O’Hara said he was in­formed a zon­ing mat­ter will come be­fore the league dur­ing its April 23 meet­ing that will be the first un­der these new rules.

“I can’t find de­tails on this zon­ing is­sue,” he said, which is a prob­lem for him as he tries to in­form league mem­bers, who are drawn from the en­tire 19115 ZIP code. 

• O’Hara said that the civic group is free to let many more people know about the meet­ing, where they will find out what the ap­plic­ant wants to do.

• The group’s mem­bers will tell the zon­ers if they sup­port or op­pose the ap­plic­ant, who can’t set up a zon­ing hear­ing un­til he has gone be­fore the RCO.

Dur­ing the March 26 meet­ing, Lam­bert, who is new to her job, said she’s hop­ing any dif­fi­culties can be ironed out in six months. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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