Philadelphia Zoning, Land Use, and Construction COVID-19 Update
Construction work of all types is authorized in the City of Philadelphia. Construction sites must comply with all applicable State and City guidance. All work must conform to the requirements of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued on (regarding business safety measures for in-person operations) and , regarding building safety measures; all applicable guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (including the , guidance regarding critical infrastructure workers who may have been exposed to COVID-19); the Governor’s guidance regarding real estate industry operations; the Governor’s April 23, 2020, guidance regarding construction businesses; and the City’s Safer-At-Home guidance. Also, the Philadelphia’s Water Department must be notified of the project at email@example.com. More detailed information is available here.
L&I’s Audits and Investigations Unit is conducting patrols in order to ensure compliance with COVID-19 requirements. L&I is also tracking all stop-work orders issued for non-compliant work sites and will pursue action against non-compliant license holders. Failure to comply with the City’s order will result in the issuance of violations and corresponding fines of up to $2,000 per day of violation, the suspension or revocation of the contractor’s license, a referral to Commonwealth authorities, and any other remedies available under law.
L&I employees are actively working on zoning and building permits through eCLIPSE, L&I’s online permitting and licensing system. All physical copies of issued permits will be held at the Municipal Services Building at 1401 JFK Boulevard, but electronic copies will be made available, along with electronic billing statements. Individuals can pick up their permits and plans from the Municipal Services Building by appointment. Individuals can also file permit applications and drop off additional materials by appointment. L&I also increased all fees, excluding inspection and administrative fees, on July 1, 2020. The new fee schedule can be found here.
L&I maintains a crew of inspectors. All inspections must be scheduled through L&I’s Interactive Voice Recognition system (IVR). Instructions for IVR are available . If a contractor needs to meet a critical deadline, he/she should submit an inquiry to L&I via 311 using an online form available here. Notably, contractors will not be able to schedule inspections if their licenses are not up to date in eCLIPSE.
L&I has also suspended the expiration of previously issued permits. The expiration dates on all construction permits and zoning permits, including conditional zoning permits, active on or after March 16 have been extended by six months. An additional six-month extension may be requested upon the expiration of the extended period. These extensions do not apply to fire code, make safe, or rough-in permits. Also, this extension is not in addition to any extension issued by the Zoning Board of Adjustment; all permits granted by variance or special exception are still subject to ZBA regulation. Lastly, all permit applications active on or after March 16 have been extended for six months from the date that the permit would be deemed abandoned. This extension, however, does not apply if there have been subsequent submissions.
Furthermore, all individuals who received variances and special exceptions between September 16, 2019 and March 16, 2020, may file for an administrative review any time within 360 days of issuance of the special exception or variance.
Currently, the Board of License and Inspection Review, the Board of Building Standards, and the Plumbing Advisory Board are conducting regular hearings. All previously stayed hearings have been rescheduled.
Permit denials and the ability to appeal are currently available through eCLIPSE if the denial was issued on eCLIPSE after March 15, 2020. Individuals can make amendments via eCLIPSE if the application was filed on eCLIPSE; amendments to pre-eCLIPSE documents must be submitted by mail or by contacting L&I.
Posting and Notice Requirements
Notification signs for hearings must be posted at least 21 days prior to the hearing date, and notification signs for continued hearings must be posted at least 14 days prior to the hearing date. The content for these signs will be provided by the ZBA and may not be altered by the applicant. All Zoning Code requirements relating to reposting, sign removal, and the posting of refusals and referrals remain in effect. The ZBA may require an applicant to provide proof that the posting requirements have been met.
If a ZBA hearing has been scheduled, but a coordinating Registered Community Organization (RCO) is unable to organize a community meeting, the ZBA shall defer to the recommendation of the Planning Commission regarding the treatment of the ZBA hearing unless the District Councilperson objects or the ZBA finds that the recommendation imposes an undue burden upon the applicant or other persons or entities, including the RCO(s). If an RCO is unable to hold a meeting within the 45-day meeting period, the Planning Commission
The ZBA has also extended the expiration dates on all approvals issued by the Board if the approval would have expired on March 15, 2020, through December 31, 2020. All such approvals have been extended by 180 days from the date that the approval would have expired.
By order of Gov. Tom Wolf, PADEP offices throughout the Commonwealth remain closed. However, much of the regional staff is telecommuting and reachable in connection with inquiries on the status of pending environmental approvals/applications. The U.S. EPA remains open via telecommuting options, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also is reachable.
Developers may have some flexibility in their efforts to comply with environmental laws, at least as far as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is concerned. Here is a link to our Environmental Group’s alert on that topic. Here is a link to the previous Ballard Spahr alert discussing the EPA policy.
Furthermore, PADEP has expanded its menu of online permitting functions, enabling the business community to take advantage of what PADEP believes is a more streamlined permit application and review experience. PADEP is also promoting use of the tool because it increases the efficiency of its permit reviewers now working from home as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. PADEP notes that previous online permitting options will remain in place, and for those taking advantage of the earlier programs, the existing portals should continue to be used. For the new slug of permits online, here is a helpful link to application materials with instructions and guidance. Those with questions can email Harry Weiss, leader of Ballard Spahr’s Environment and Natural Resources Group, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The EPA’s Temporary Enforcement Policy
A Federal District Court in Montana has invalidated U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 because the court found that the Corps did not, while reauthorizing the general permit in 2017, take into proper account the impact of use of the permit on certain endangered species. The decision in can be reviewed , and has left developers of such projects scrambling to identify other Nationwide Permits that may be utilized to keep projects moving forward and avoid the need to seek individual wetland fill permits for work along the entire route.
Zoning and building permits should still be posted on properties in the normal course, to the extent possible. Please contact our Zoning and Land Use Team for any assistance.
The Philadelphia Streets Department has staff members working remotely, however, delays should be expected. Plan Review Counter Submissions (Checklist no. 1) may be submitted online only through the L&I eCLIPSE system. All Plan Review Intake Submissions (Checklists nos. 2, 3, and 4) must be submitted electronically to StreetsROW.PlanReview@phila.gov. Developer Services Meetings deemed necessary by staff may be held remotely.
If a permit has expired or is approaching expiration as a result of work stoppage due to COVID-19, the Department advises individuals to email the permit number and their contact information to email@example.com to request a permit extension.
The Water Department’s offices are closed to the public; however, Private Development Services’ staff members are working remotely. Staff members are conducting storm water plan reviews, utility plan reviews, water and sewer sign-offs, along with other reviews. Delays should be expected for all reviews, especially utility plan reviews. All general questions and meeting requests should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information about submitting materials and payments can be found .
Any zoning, demolition, site or building permit that requires PWD sign-off must be applied for via eCLIPSE. Additionally, PWD has created a new Electronic Pre-Application Form. This form is recommended for projects that have yet to make an ERSA Application, but wish to meet with PWD virtually in advance of submission to discuss the project.
The Water Department is also processing plumbing permits. For all new connection requests, applicants must have a pre-permit, which can be requested by contacting email@example.com. More information about plumbing permits and payment methods can be found here.
The Water Department is also granting time extensions to expiration dates for project permits and approvals impacted by the pandemic. Time extensions only apply to PWD-issued permits and approvals.
Regular billing will continue, but PWD has waived late payment fees and penalties for all customers until further notice. At this time, PWD will not terminate service for residential customers through April 1, 2021.
The Philadelphia Department of Records has a small staff is now in-office to help process mail, email, and phone requests. In-person services are still unavailable. E-recording via third-party vendors, however, is still operating. Delays should be expected.
The Department of Planning and Development issued emergency regulations governing “deemed approvals” by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, the Philadelphia Historical Commission, the Philadelphia Art Commission, and their various committees, including the Civic Design Review Committee and the Sign Committee of the Art Commission. From March 18 through 60 days after the termination of the Mayor’s Emergency Order, the non-performance of review by these agencies, their respective committees or staff, in connection with any applications, plans, materials, or other documents will not constitute a deemed approval or a deemed denial of any such applications, plans, materials or documents subject to review.
While the offices of the Philadelphia Historical Commission are closed, staff members are working remotely. General inquiries, approvals, complaints, and nominations can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The staff can also review and approve most applications without referral to the Commission itself. Additional information can be found .
Staff members at the Planning Commission are working remotely, although, delays should be expected. Staff members are reviewing plans submitted on eCLIPSE and amendments to master plans. PCPC staff will provide comments on any proposed legislation, a draft of which should be sent to staff members; requesting parties should keep in mind that all legislation is subject to the discretion of City Council. Reviews of applications related to steep slopes, frontages, and landscapes are being completed in a timely manner. Reviews of applications related to watersheds or lot lines are delayed due to the inaccessibility of maps located in PCPC’s offices. Staff members are also conducting Urban Design reviews through eCLIPSE and processing loading waivers through email.
The Civic Design Review Committee is holding virtual meetings. More information about upcoming meetings can be found here. Staff members are available to provide preliminary Civic Design Review comments by email at CDR@phila.gov.
Philadelphia Parks and Recreation
Tree Management staff members are conducting plan reviews on a limited schedule. Plans can be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays via a phone call to Robin Klink at 215.683.0213, or by email at Robin.Klink@phila.gov. Once the plan has been reviewed, a notification will be sent by email and plans may be picked up based on the above schedule.
Tax Abatement Applications
Tax abatement applications can be mailed to the Office of Property Assessment or emailed to Drew.Aldinger@phila.gov. The application will be deemed received on the postmark date.
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This alert is a periodic publication of Ballard Spahr LLP and is intended to notify recipients of new developments in the law. It should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own attorney concerning your situation and specific legal questions you have.