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Height bonus for fresh food market allows developer to proceed

The Philadelphia Zoning Code is a long and very complex document. Sometimes, a detailed knowledge of its provisions can mean the difference between approval and rejection of a development plan, as demonstrated by a proposal to construct a mixed-use project at 601 Christian Street.

In January 2016, the Zoning Board of Adjustment rejected the proposal because its height, 48 feet, exceeded the 38-foot limit for the zoning district. The proposed building also did not meet the open space requirements. Opponents of the project, neighbors who wanted a park on the lot, thought they had triumphed.

The developer, however, returned to the zoning code and found a provision that provides a height bonus for buildings that devote a specified amount of floor space to a fresh food market. The zoning code contains two provisions that allow this bonus, one for a fresh food market with at least 5,000 square feet allotted to display of food and non-grocery products, and another for an "establishment in which the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables to the general public occupies at least 50% of the display area." Applied to the building in question, the second type of height bonus permits a maximum height of 53 feet, which is five feet greater than the height that was originally rejected. The Zoning Board's decision has raised numerous questions about the interpretation and application of the height bonus provision, but meanwhile, the developer of 601 Christian Street is moving ahead, with its zoning permit in hand.

This case shows how a knowledge of the City's zoning code can provide a material advantage to a commercial real estate developer working with a small lot or a tight fit for a proposed use. Anyone facing similar circumstances may wish to consult an experienced real estate lawyer for advice on how to obtain the required zoning approvals.

Source: PlanPhilly, "Developers discovering underused zoning bonus for fresh food markets," Jon Geeting, May 27, 2016

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