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Recommendations to Improve ZBA Performance, Protocol, and Procedures

Beginning in July, the Development Workshop worked with a taskforce to develop recommendations regarding zoning and land use in Philadelphia. The taskforce included the Building Industry Association, City employees, attorneys who practice in land use/zoning and zoning committee members from the Crosstown Coalition civic association.

Below are recommendations to improve ZBA performance, protocol, and procedures that were submitted by the task force. For the full list, including further discussion of the points listed, click here.


ZBA Support Staff

  • Establish at least one full-time administrative staff position assigned exclusively to the ZBA

  • Continue administrative support by other non-exclusive PCPC staff in addition to full-time administrative staff

Agenda Scheduling Management

  • Divide hearing day schedules into multiple time groupings, with adequate buffer time between time groupings to accommodate the occasional protracted hearing and provide the Board needed administrative time between case groupings – example: 9:30-11:00; 12:00-1:30; 2:30-4:00; and 5:30-7:00

  • Broadcast an up-to-date ZBA agenda, including continuances as they are granted by the Board, on large-screen displays both inside the ZBA meeting room and hallway at the exterior of the meeting room

  • Tie agenda progress broadcasting to a mobile device application providing real-time updates.

  • Uncontested cases, accompanied by a RCO letter of no-less-than “non-objection”, be heard before contested cases

  • Uncontested Special Exception cases be heard before contested Variance cases

  • Reinstitute the practice of ZBA case check-in to be done by ZBA administrative staff

  • Institute the practice of Advance Check-In via email or on-line application

Sequencing of RCO and PCPC Input

  • Direct the PCPC staff person to share with the Board record of the PCPC staff case recommendation immediately following the reading of the Refusal

  • Direct the PCPC staff person to share with the Board record of the RCO case recommendation immediately following the reading of the PCPC staff recommendation

  • Establish protocols by which negotiated conditions may be read into the record in the case of Variances or Special Exceptions granted by the Board

Acknowledge and Establish the Role of Master Plans & Adopted Plans

  • Institute the practice of positioning the PCPC staff recommendation as the first point of testimony offered during ZBA hearings

  • Key Role of Points of Refusal and Specific Applicable Criteria Governing ZBA Judgments

  • Direct the Board to focus its management of each case on the specific points of the Refusal appealed

  • Direct the Board to urge all participating parties offering testimony to base such testimony on the specific points of the Refusal appealed

  • When voting its position on any case, the Board might best state in what ways the application and testimony meet, or do not meet, the standards guiding the Board’s granting, or not granting, the appeal

Live Streaming ZBA Meetings

  • Institute the practice of live-streaming all ZBA hearings

  • Re-broadcast all ZBA hearings at a time convenient to the day-time working public

Notification of ZBA Decision

  • Establish a clear protocol for notification of decision to all those identified as hearing attendees and participants

  • Carry out notification of decision via registered, return receipt mail service

  • Require that all ZBA variance approvals be posted in writing on city website with minimum one paragraph explanation for why the board did or did not grant the variance

  • Establishment of Basic ZBA Board Member Qualifications

  • Establish basic qualifications for each seat to ensure a broad base of experience and expertise

Zoning Code Training for ZBA Members

  • Establish basic training protocols for all ZBA board appointments

  • Establish continuing education protocols for all ZBA board members

Increased Pay Scale for ZBA Board Members

  • Increase compensation commensurate with the experience and professionalism appropriate to the position

  • Provide compensated case file review period for ZBA members to study all scheduled cases prior to hearings

Key Steps Toward Reducing the number of Zoning Appeals

  • Complete the re-mapping process as quickly as possible;

  • Urge all members of Council to act on all re-mapping bills prepared by PCPC;

  • To adjust the current culture of zoning appeals, make clear that all applicants have the right to appeal an L&I Refusal, but no one has a right to a variance; and

  • Insist on a detailed annual review of all Refusals, Variance and Special Exception appeals in order to best identify and inform remedial Code amendment actions, as appropriate.

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