Growing Food in Philadelphia:
Some Basics on the Zoning Code and Use Registration
Zoning Update: Cities and regions have widely variable zoning, code, and permit requirements for community gardens and urban farms. While some places seem to lack any kind of restrictions, other areas are infamous for outlawing necessary garden structures, such as compost bins. Whatever the requirements, it helps to understand the regulations specific to your locale.
Beginning in 2007, Philadelphia embarked on a four-year process to completely update and rewrite its zoning code for the first time in 50 years. The new Zoning Code was passed by City Council and became effective on August 22, 2012. The new Zoning Code recognizes Urban Agriculture as a potential land use category in Philadelphia. This is important because dealing with zoning restrictions is potentially much easier.
How Will the New Zoning Code Affect My Garden?
The final step in the process of rewriting the Zoning Code (Code) is “remapping,” which is the process of modifying zone maps to reflect the future classifications. Many gardeners and farmers fear something will happen to their property if its zoning classification is changed on the new maps, but there is no cause for worry. A zoning map change cannot take away a property owner’s right to use their land for any legal existing use; you can continue to operate your farm or garden until you voluntarily change or abandon the use. You can view the new zoning map for your neighborhood here.
Philadelphia law recognizes four types of urban agriculture:
1) Community Garden: a garden managed and maintained by a group of individuals. The main purpose of this type of plot is to grow food for the people who maintain it, not to sell food for profit. Incidental sales are permitted for a small amount of food or non-food crops if you have extra. This type of garden can be located on a roof or within a building.
Community Gardens are allowed in: Residential areas, mixed residential/ commercial areas, mixed residential/industrial areas, in institutional areas, entertainment areas, stadiums, and by airports.
NOT allowed in: A port industrial district (a wharf, dock, pier or other areas meant for marine-industrial use), or a district designated for recreational parks or open spaces by the city.
2) Market or Community-Supported Farm: a farm that is maintained by an individual or group with the purpose of growing food for sale. This can also be located on a roof or within a building.
- Allowed in: Most residential areas, most mixed residential/commercial areas, mixed residential/industrial areas, and near airports.
- Not allowed in: Center City Commercial Districts (high density commercial and retail districts in the heart of center city), high density industrial districts (places where there is petroleum or chemical processing, storage, etc.), an industrial port (a wharf, dock, pier or other areas meant for marine-industrial use), any area designated for stadiums or entertainment (theatres, casinos, etc.), or districts designated for recreational parks or open spaces by the city.
- A special exception permit is required for a Market or Community-Supported Farm in:
- Residential districts zoned for single-family detached homes.
- Institutional districts (universities, research facilities, etc.)
Other Requirements for Community Gardens or Market Farms:
- You must make sure your water and fertilizer do not drain into adjacent lots
- Refuse and compost bins must be rodent resistant and located as far as possible from any residences.
- Refuse must be taken out at least once a week.
- Storage areas for tools and other equipment must be enclosed and located as far away as possible from any residences. A zoning and building permit will be required for accessory storage structures.
- No work involving power equipment or generators between sunset and sunrise.
- Any food sold must be sold on the lot where it was grown or at an approved food retail site.
- There are requirements governing when you may erect a fence and what type of fence may be erected in a Community Garden. A zoning permit will be required. Be sure to reference zoning requirements before building a fence.
3) Horticulture Nurseries and Greenhouses: propagation and growth of plants in containers or in the ground for wholesale sales and distribution
4) Animal Husbandry: Feeding, housing, and care of farm animals for private or commercial purposes, subject to applicable Philadelphia code and regulations on farm animals. This is subject to severe restrictions imposed by City Council in 2004, but many residents would like the law changed to allow chickens. Regulations only allow farm animals on parcels of property of 3 or more acres.
- Allowed in: Some industrial districts
- NOT allowed in: A mixed industrial/residential district or a port industrial district.
Note on Farm Animal Restrictions
- Severe restrictions on keeping farm animals were imposed by City Council in 2004.
- The current law provides that farm animals can only be kept
- At a slaughterhouse,
- If the animal was purchased to be killed for food and is kept for no more than 24 hours,
- At a zoo,
- At a veterinary hospital or clinic,
- At an animal shelter,
- At a circus,
- At a school or a lab, or
- On property with more than three acres, if the farm animal is not a pig.
- In the Code, “farm animal” includes chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, cows, and other farm animals considered smelly or noisy. Many residents would like the law changed to allow keeping chickens, in particular, outside of these specified areas. For more information, see Title 10 of the Philadelphia Code.
Philadelphia Laws and Regulations for Growing and Selling Food:
Commercial Activity License: The City of Philadelphia requires any group or individual that is not a registered nonprofit to obtain a Commercial Activity License from the Department of Licenses and Inspections before beginning sales. You can obtain a CAL for free. To get a CAL, you must fill out a license request form. You can do so on the Internet here: https://business.phila.gov/Pages/BusinessPrivilegeLicense.aspx? or call 311 or 215-686-8686 and speak to a representative at L&I, located at the Municipal Services Building, 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
Gardeners are allowed to sell produce (uncut, whole) from their gardens without obtaining any more than a CAL. However, if you want to use the sidewalk or other right-of-way for your sales, you will need to obtain additional licenses from the L&I Department. Similarly, if you want to set up a permanent store for selling food, you will need to contact both L&I and the Health Department.
Currently, all farmers' markets in the City of Philadelphia must annually submit a Farmers' Market Operator Registration form to the Department of Public Health, Office of Food Protection. That form is located here: http://www.phila.gov/health/pdfs/FarmersMarketRegForm_4_23_14.pdf. The Office of Food Protection also has a comprehensive Farmers' Market Operator Guide that outlines this and other requirements for farmers' markets. For example, there may be additional requirements if your market farm is located on private property, Department of Parks and Recreation property, or if you need additional parking. You can also visit the Office of Food Protection's webpage dedicated to farmers' markets.
- The Office of Food Protection also has walk-in hours 9-4 p.m. M-F, at 321 University Avenue, 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19104 or call the office at 215-685-7495 for assistance.
If you are interested in being a part of an existing market by selling, Farm to City and the Food Trust are good resources in Philadelphia, since they organize many of the City’s farmers’ markets. These organizations have different requirements for selling. For example, Farm to City requires that your farmers’ market activities are covered by general liability and product liability insurance policies. Each requires sellers to follow the Philadelphia Code for farmers’ markets (Section 9-213) which apply to food safety, sanitation, and stand maintenance, and obtain a CAL. If you are interested in selling at a market, contact either:
- Farm to City (http://www.farmtocity.org/) -- (215) 733-9599
- Food Trust (http://www.thefoodtrust.org/) -- (215) 575-0444
How to Apply for a Zoning and Use Registration Permit: Even though community gardening and market farming are allowed in most parts of the city under the new Code, you still need to acquire a "use registration permit" from the City if your garden or farm is a new use or a change in the use of a parcel. This is a one-time permit with a fee of $125. A copy of the application can be found here and the instructions provided by L&I can be found here. You can also go to the Municipal Services Building, Department of Licenses and Inspections, 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Concourse Level or call 311 (215-686-8686) for assistance.
You only need a use registration permit if:
- You own the property, or are leasing it from either the city or a private owner, AND
- Your property is not designated for use as a single-family home or religious institution,
If you do not lease or own the property, then you cannot apply for a use registration permit. Because many problems with gardens only arise when neighbors don’t appreciate side effects of gardening, such as compost piles, you should ensure community cooperation if you do not own or lease the property.
After You Have Submitted Your Zoning and Use Registration Permit:
- An examiner from L&I will review the application to see if it complies with the Zoning Code and answer any questions.
- L&I will notify the applicant of its decision within 20 business days. If the application is refused, a Notice of Refusal will be issued and an applicant may file a Petition of Appeal to the Zoning Board and request a variance within 30 days.
- Within five business days of receiving the permit, the applicant must post a copy on the property in a way that is obvious to the public for at least 30 days.
- For more information on the process, see: https://business.phila.gov/location-and-zoning-information/
How to Appeal a Refusal:
If L&I issues a refusal of your zoning and use application and you wish to appeal, you must file an Application for Appeal or an Application for Special Exception with the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The refusal you receive will indicate which application you will need to file for your particular situation. Applications must be filed within 30 days of receiving a refusal.
For more information, see https://business.phila.gov/Documents/Licenses/ZoningAppealInstructions.pdf, or visit the Boards Administration Unit, 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Municipal Services Building- 11th Floor, 215-686-2429.
Remember, zoning is only the first step. If you complete any construction, you may need a building permit as well.
To view the new Philadelphia Zoning Code, effective August 22, 2012, click here.
Zoning Archives contains copies of zoning applications for various addresses in Philadelphia. It is often useful to review the archive for a particular property before submitting an application to determine what, if any, applications were previously accepted or denied. See: http://www.phila.gov/zoningarchive/
More information on the current zoning code may be found at http://www.phila.gov/CityPlanning/projectreviews/PDF/Zoning_Matters_website_CONTENT.pdf.
CHECKLIST FOR GARDENERS SEEKING TO COMPLY WITH LOCAL LAWS
- Are you planning to start a community garden or market farm?
- I want to grow food primarily for sale, either as a nonprofit or for profit venture
- The Code recognizes you as a market farm.
- I want to create a garden or grow food for family or community use, with occasional sales
- The Code recognizes you as a community garden.
- Is your garden or farm in a zoning district that allows your type of urban agriculture?
- If yes, the Planning Commission says that you will still need to get a “use registration permit.”
- If no, you can seek a variance. Contact your City Councilperson and ask to speak with the person in charge of zoning issues.
- I want to grow food primarily for sale, either as a nonprofit or for profit venture