First Comprehensive Zoning Code Reform In 50 Years Allows Philly

The City of Philadelphia marked Day One of its first comprehensive rewrite of the zoning code in more than 50 years. The new code is the result of a thorough civic engagement process led by the City’s appointed Zoning Code Commission (ZCC), and including neighborhood groups, government, business, professional and civic leaders who worked together to make it happen. The new code will also enable the City Planning Commission to move forward on implementing recommendations of Philadelphia2035, the City’s adopted comprehensive, or physical-development, plan.

“When I took office, I said that development in Philadelphia would be driven by smart planning, by openness, and by community engagement.  The new zoning code which comes into effect today epitomizes these principles,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “The new code will make it easier for developers to get projects moving and create jobs, and it will provide a real path for citizens to become involved in the growth of their neighborhoods.  This is an historic achievement, and the credit belongs to the many ordinary citizens and neighborhood groups who worked with us to produce a code that will stand the test of time.”

Designed to preserve the past and anticipate the future, the new zoning code updates and codifies the City’s regulations for development and sets expectations regarding land use. After the ZCC’s exhaustive and inclusive effort to shape the code based on thoughtful input from the community, City Council voted unanimously to adopt it.  The code was signed into law by Mayor Nutter on Dec. 22, 2011, and it goes into effect today.

Among the changes to the City’s development regulations and approval procedures are:

·         A reduced number of zoning classifications

·         Incorporation of a civic design review process

·         Establishment of the role of citizens in the zoning approval process

The result is the 384-page Code is more user-friendly for everyone, including developers, community groups and individual homeowners.

By streamlining antiquated regulations that dated back to the early 1960’s, the new code also transforms the way developers and community groups work together toward a common goal: smart, job-creating and sustainable growth that preserves Philadelphia’s vibrant neighborhoods.

To mark the occasion, grassroots Philadelphians joined Mayor Nutter and Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger at The Granary, a new residential and retail construction site at 19th and Callowhill Streets. The gathering was both a ceremonial kickoff for the new zoning code and a celebration of a new standard for community engagement for developing public consensus on complex issues.

“The development of both an updated comprehensive plan and zoning code will transform the way Philadelphia attracts business,” said Alan Greenberger, who serves as Chair of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission as well as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Director of Commerce. “Investors and developers will now know exactly what to expect from Philadelphia – a fair and consistent place to do business.”

The new code is the product of an open, transparent, interactive and unprecedented process. Professionals and the public engaged with each other through an exhaustive series of public meetings and forums, and an official website was designated to share all documents, minutes and meeting PowerPoints. Educational tools were provided to allow community members to comprehend the issues, think like planners and architects, and participate in the dialogue. In an extensive give-and-take over four years, residents’ comments were reviewed at each stage, modifications were made to the drafts, opposing sides were brought together, and the process moved forward.

In 2007, the citizens of Philadelphia overwhelmingly approved a 2007 ballot proposal to establish the ZCC. Then the new commission set about tackling a byzantine, out-of-date document that included regulations for opening a tannery or slaughterhouse but made it very difficult to respond to the technological revolution.

The Zoning Code Commission held 50 public meetings. In addition, the process included: two public hearings in City Council chambers; 36 community-based meetings; seven Stakeholder X-Change meetings; two public meetings to discuss why the Commission adopted, rejected, or modified a group’s proposal; interviews with 125 professional zoning code users; and surveys of nearly 2,000 individuals on components of the proposals.

Over the past several months, the Department of Licenses and Inspections and the City Planning Commission, in collaboration with the Office of Information Technology, have been hard at work developing new websites and mapping applications to ensure a smooth transition to the new zoning code.  Visit and for more information.

View the City of Philadelphia Zoning Code:

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