The Ballard Spahr Zoning and Land Use team is closely monitoring all aspects of the City of Philadelphia land use approval process during the COVID-19 emergency, including the issuance of zoning and building permits, inspections of construction work, and public hearings.

Below are updates on a number of key items. We will continue to update this list, which may change as new information becomes available. Meanwhile, please do not hesitate to call or e-mail us.

Philadelphia Government – General

With limited exceptions, all Philadelphia government buildings are closed to the public, and all non-essential government operations are suspended. The city is in the process of clarifying its list of essential operations, which will include public safety, health and human services, utilities, sanitation, and payroll, in addition to certain real estate-related functions, as described below. For a list of non-essential businesses being closed, read the city’s Emergency Order.

At present, all previously scheduled public hearings are postponed, including meetings of the Historical Commission, City Planning Commission, Art Commission, Board of Building Standards, and Civic Design Review Committee. The city has suspended the deadlines for all pending and incoming Right-To-Know requests until normal operations resume. Urgent Right-To-Know inquiries may be directed to Feige Grundman at feige.grundman@phila.gov.

Department of Licenses and Inspections

L&I employees working on zoning and building permits are generally telecommuting on a case-by-case basis. In addition to addressing the COVID-19 emergency, the city is transitioning to the online eCLIPSE permitting system. eCLIPSE is scheduled to go live today, but delays are anticipated. We are continuing to pursue the issuance of permits for applications submitted prior to the eCLIPSE shutdown on March 13 and are in close communication with city officials regarding next steps on all permits. The city is still confirming the process for accepting new zoning and building permit applications.

Construction

At the city’s March 17 COVID-19 press conference, the Managing Director said that construction in the city is essential and will continue. We understand from L&I that the city intends to continue to inspect construction sites and will be prepared to issue certificates of occupancy in the normal course, but delays should be expected.

Zoning Board of Adjustment

All ZBA hearings are postponed through March 31, and will be rescheduled once the board reopens. The ZBA is suspending all deadlines for filing appeals otherwise due between March 13 and March 31. The time for filing appeals has been extended for two weeks in every instance where the original filing deadline would have fallen within this period.

Registered Community Organizations will not be penalized for postponing community meetings between now and March 31. The RCOs are encouraged to work with developers to figure out an alternative to public meetings. At this time, the city will not be changing the timelines for when a case must be heard by the Civic Design Review Committee or Zoning Board of Adjustment. These timelines will continue to apply, whether or not an RCO meeting has been held.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

By order of Gov. Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania DEP offices throughout the Commonwealth are closed through the end of March. However, much of the regional staff is telecommuting and presumably 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.

Permit Postings

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.

Streets Department

At least some Philadelphia Streets Department employees involved in plan approval currently are telecommuting and are actively monitoring projects. Plan Review Counter Submissions (Checklist #1) may be submitted online only through the L&I eCLIPSE system. All Plan Review Intake Submissions (Checklist #2/3/4) must be submitted electronically to StreetsROW.PlanReview@phila.gov. Developer Services Meetings deemed necessary by staff may be held remotely.

Water Department

At least some Philadelphia Water Department employees currently are telecommuting and are actively monitoring projects. Applicants are encouraged to email questions to pwd.planreview@phila.gov.

Department of Records

The Philadelphia Department of Records is closed until the end of the month, but e-recording via third party vendors is still operating.

Courts

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas has imposed a limited closure until April. All civil and criminal trials are suspended, as are all non-emergency hearings. This includes foreclosures, evictions, and all agency appeals (e.g., ZBA, L&I Review Board, Board of Revision of Taxes, Historical Commission, etc.). All non-emergency civil filings are temporarily suspended. All filing deadlines are temporarily suspended. Anything required to be filed between March 17 and March 31 may be filed until April 6. Before making any filing decisions, please consult the court’s website for specific information: https://www.courts.phila.gov/covid-19/.

Commonwealth Court has cancelled all oral arguments through March 26. E-filing remains available. So far, there has been no suspension of filing deadlines. More information is available here.


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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.