Zoning and Development

Zoning and Development

BVNA Zoning Protocols

Zoning Committee Co-Chairs:

  • Larry Weintraub, AIA
  • Dennis Hallda

The Zoning Committee looks for volunteers who are able to bring impartiality and a commitment to work on behalf of all sectors of Bella Vista. Committee tasks include leafleting for upcoming meetings, meeting participation, letter writing, posting zoning decisions to the website, and attending hearings.

Neighbors interested in helping out with Bella Vista development issues can contact the Zoning Committee at zoning@nullbellavistaneighbors.org or attend the upcoming monthly meetings to observe the process and meet Committee members.


Zoning is the process of determining how a property may be used.  Each parcel has a specific zoning category that governs what can be done to that property.   Bella Vista categories include RSA-5 (residential single family), RM-1 (residential multi family), CMX-1, CMX-2 and CMX-2.5 (commercial).

Zoning permits certify the designated use of a property.  Zoning permits help ensure that a property stays in compliance with the rules of its zoning district with respect to the use as well as to have the architectural form and
features comply with allowable lot coverage and building bulk, height and setbacks from property lines. Any building project that involves a change of use, reconfiguration of lot lines, changes to signs on commercial establishments, new construction on a lot, the installation of off-street parking or for the erection of a new addition, deck, fence or gate requires a zoning permit. Zoning permits must be applied for and approved before a building permit can be applied for and obtained.

If what you want to build; or the way that you want to use your property is not permitted by-right in your particular zoning district, your application request for a zoning permit will be denied, and a zoning refusal will be issued by L&I.  You will not be allowed to use the property or build on the property in the desired way without further legal steps, such as filing an appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).

A zoning appeal offers an applicant a time and date to be heard in the public forum of the ZBA to explain their project and why deviating from the zoning rules of their designated zoning district is essential or necessary.

A zoning variance is granted where the use is normally prohibited, or where deviating from allowable dimensional building parameters is necessary, but where enforcing the code would result in “unnecessary hardship” to the property. To obtain a variance, the applicant must prove to the ZBA that the granting of the variance is in the spirit of the code and it will not adversely affect public health, welfare or safety; where the conditions are unique to the property; and where the applicant did not create the need for the variance. Variances apply to the parcel of land
so long as the use is maintained, and do not expire with a change of land ownership.


Once the appeal is filed, the applicant will be given a ZBA hearing date approximately 45-60 days from the date of the application filing. In that time, the applicant is required to first prepare a notification letter to the Planning Commission within 10 days, coordinate a meeting with the local Registered Community Organization (RCO) within 45 days, to post orange ZBA hearing poster(s) upon the property within 21 days of the ZBA hearing, and to notify all near neighbors (within approximately 200 feet of the proposed project) of the upcoming RCO meeting date, location and time.


In most cases, aside from properties on South Street, BVNA will be the primary coordinating RCO, and will convene the meeting.  Our meetings typically take place on the first Tuesday at 7:30pm at Palumbo Rec Center.

The applicant will have a chance to present their plans.  The near neighbors will then ask questions, followed by the community at large, followed by closing questions by the BVNA zoning committee.

After discussion concludes, BVNA will conduct a show of hand vote for those opposed, and those unopposed.  This vote will be conducted first of the near neighbors who received the notice, followed by the Bella Vista community at large.   BVNA zoning committee will then work on an advisory letter, which will include the vote tally, summary of discussion, as well as additional guidance, typically due 24 to 48 hours before the ZBA hearing date.


Building materials (such as brick vs vinyl) and architectural design elements are not governed by the base zoning code, nor does Bella Vista does not, at present, have a conservation overlay.   As such, these discussions are out of scope.  The applicant may share renderings that highlight these plans, but is not required to adhere to them.

Questions pertaining to the length of construction, road closures, dumpster placement, noise, and other logistics also do not fall under the zoning code.  While these are very important issues to discuss with the developer, as with any construction project — these matters are typically out of scope of any zoning meeting discussion.


In the case of a zoning variance or exception, the case will then be heard at the ZBA, 1515 Arch, 18th Floor.  The applicant will inform the Bella Vista community of this date and time.  If you feel strongly about the case, you are encouraged to attend and bring representation.   The ZBA will hear the case and render a decision, which either party could appeal.

“As-of-Right” Development
BVNA’s Zoning Committee generally does not host neighborhood meetings on new buildings or businesses that completely conform to the current zoning code. So if you see a restaurant or boutique open, or a new addition being built, and BVNA hasn’t already held a meeting on it, there is a good chance that the project has received by-right over the counter permits, and is good to go.

“Not just Zoning Variances”

We do also hold meetings on new liquor licenses (referred to us by PLCB), and new sidewalk cafes moving into Bella Vista (for introduction as a council ordinance).

Sometimes that happens when a restaurant is first proposed, and sometimes later on. Always feel free to drop us an email at zoning@nullbellavistaneighbors.org about any concerns you have about a project, and we’ll try to fill you in. We receive notice of pending zoning variance and liquor license applications from several sources, but your eyes and ears are a great benefit to the community.


Many agencies and groups track and influence Philadelphia’s zoning and development issues. Below are some of the important city planning and development websites.

The City of Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections’ website provides easily accessible information on zoning, construction, codes and regulations, and the appeals process. You can even search by Council district or by Registered Community Organization (RCO) to see all zoning cases.  The Zoning Appeals page, accessible through the main L&I site, also shows the decision and court history for each case along with the hearing date and time.

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission is responsible for guiding the orderly growth and development of the City of Philadelphia. Its website has information on zoning throughout the city, regulations, plans and initiatives, a list of Registered Community Organizations (RCOs), and other resources.

PlanPhilly covers design, planning and development in Philadelphia. PlanPhilly was created in 2006 as a project of PennPraxis, and was incubated and supported by PennDesign and PennPraxis until March 2015. PlanPhilly is now a project of WHYY/NewsWorks, expanding its reach to a whole new audience by taking advantage of WHYY’s multiple news platforms like radio and podcasts. PlanPhilly will also, for the first time, develop a revenue generation strategy that will enable it to raise funds from diverse sources to continue its watchdog coverage.

Serving the Greater Philadelphia, Camden, Trenton, Chester area for more than 40 years, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) is an interstate, inter-county and intercity agency that provides continuing, comprehensive and coordinated planning to shape a vision for the future growth of the Delaware Valley region. The region includes Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties, as well as the City of Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania; and Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Mercer counties in New Jersey.

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