Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Planning and Zoning

Major Urban Ag Legislation

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Disclaimer: The Sustainable Economies Law Center provides periodic updates to this site, however, information presented may be out of date. We encourage you consult with a professional before taking action based on the information here.

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 (source: City blog post 12/22/11). According to the Zoning Code Commission, the current code has gradually become a “myriad of individual ordinances and overlays, resulting in a very complicated document” (source: Zoning Code Commission’s Referral Draft 2 – Feb 2011). The new code was signed into law on December 22, 2011 and goes into effect on August 22, 2012. Broadly, the new zoning code encourages urban agriculture by:

  • Recognizing urban agriculture as an principal land use category
  • Defining four different subtypes of urban agriculture
  • Establishing clear parameters and requirements for urban agriculture within each zoning district

Specifically, the new zoning code does the following:

  • Defines urban agriculture as a “use category” that “includes gardens, farms, and orchards that involve raising and harvesting of food and non-food crops and the raising of farm animals” (source: Philadelphia Zoning Code, effective Aug 22, 2012 — accessed May 7, 2012)
  • Defines four urban agriculture “use subcategories” as follows (source: Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia & Philadelphia Zoning Code, effective Aug 22, 2012 — accessed May 7 and 16, 2012)
    • Animal Husbandry involves “feeding, housing, and care of farm animals for private or commercial purposes, subject to applicable [existing] Philadephia Code regulations on farm animals”
    • Community Garden
      • Intended to provide food and/or ornamental plants for those who maintain the garden, rather than to sell the produce for profit.
        • But, a small amount of extra is allowed to be sold (no specific threshold was defined).
      • Managed and maintained by a group of individuals
      • Can be subdivided into plots, but can also be farmed as one contiguous plot
      • Can be located on on the ground, on a roof, or within a building
      • May include common areas, such as a storage shed
      • May be a principal or an accessory use
    • Market or Community-Supported Farm (CSF)
      • Intended to grow food and/or non-food crops for sale or distribution as the primary purpose
      • Maintained by an individual or group
      • Located on the ground, on a roof, or within a building
      • May be a principal or accessory use
    • Horticulture Nurseries or Greenhouses
      • Involves propagation and growth of plants in containers or in the ground for wholesale sales and distribution
      • Is considered a principal use (defined in the “Definition of Key Terms” section, below)
  • Allows Community Gardens in residential areas, mixed residential/commercial areas, mixed residential/industrial areas, institutional areas, entertainment areas, stadiums, and by airports, but disallows this type of agriculture in port industrial districts, parks, and designated open space areas (source: Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia)
  • Allows Market or Community-Supported Farms in most residential areas, most mixed residential/commercial ares, mixed residential/industrial areas, and near airports, but disallowsthis type of agriculture in city center commercial districts, high density industrial districts, industrial ports, entertainment areas, parks, and designated open space areas (source: Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia)
    • Requires a special exception permit (applications available through Licenses & Inspections) for a Market or Community-Supported Farmin a residential district where: (source: Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia)
      • Each lot has a single family home, and
      • In institutional districts (e.g. universities and research facilities)
  • Allows Animal Husbandry, but does not change current code regarding where farm animals may be kept.
  • Allows Horticultural Nurseries or Greenhouses in most industrial zoning districts (but not in residential or commercial districts).
  • Outlines requirements regarding fencing
  • Outlines requirements regarding number of parking spaces required
  • Requires that water and fertilizer be kept from draining into adjoining lots
  • Requires that refuse and compost bins be rodent-resistant and located as far as possible from all residences
  • Requires that refuse be removed at least once per week
  • Requires that storage areas for tools and other equipment be enclosed and located as far away as possible from all residences
  • Disallows power equipment and generators between sunset and sunrise
  • Requires that any food for sale be sold on the lot where it was grown, or at an approved food retail site
  • Where animal agriculture is allowed, requires that animals be be fenced or enclosed as far as practical from abutting residential uses.

In addition to these zoning changes, there have been recent city government-led initiatives that seek to make fresh food accessible to all city residents. In 2008, Mayor Michael A. Nutter created a Philadelphia Food Charter and a Food Policy Council, which seek to increase food access through:

  • Expansion of the number of farmers markets
  • Creation of more working gardens in the city and encouragement of commercial agriculture
  • Integration of local food into anti-hunger programs

Quantitative goals and program initiatives designed to meet them are further outlined on the Philadelphia city government’s “Local Food” webpage)

Key Resources
  • Zoning Code Commission’s
    • The commission was created in May 2007 by ballot measure to reform and modernize Philadelphia’s outdated, cumbersome zoning code.
  • Zoning map overlays
    • The City of Philadelphia’s online, interactive map provides applicable zoning codes (there may be several) for every parcel in the city
    • Search by address or browse at different scales using the zoom tool.
  • Forms and applications related to zoning, including checklists and instructions, available through the City of Philadelphia’s Licenses & Inspections Department.
  • Next Great City Philadelphia
    • A broad-based coalition of labor groups, civic associations, faith organizations, community development groups, and others dedicated to making Philadelphia “The Next Great City.”
    • An online hub for city planning and zoning , opportunities for citizen engagement, and advocacy efforts in realizing the “common sense, cost effective policies that enhance environmental quality, strengthen neighborhoods and increase our economic competitiveness.”
  • Plan Philly
    • “A five-year-old independent news gathering entity affiliated with PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania. Former reporters and editors from The Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as citizen journalists, provide daily news coverage of the built and planned environment.” (Source: Plan Philly’s “About Us” page. Emphasis added)
    • Provides a wealth of online and in-person resources for for citizens, businesses, and organizations to both understand and participate in the zoning code update.
Selected Codes

Important Notes:
The list below is not exhaustive. It is intended to represent the codes most relevant to urban agriculture in its various forms as practiced within various zones.

The searchable text of the entire current zoning code for Philadelphia, effective through August 21, 2012, can be accessed here.

The searchable text of the entire new zoning code, effective from August 22, 2012 onward, can be accessed here. All references to Chapter 14 (aka Title 14) below are all from the new zoning code.

The Philadelphia Zoning Code is just one part (Title / Chapter 14) of the entire Philadelphia Code. Some codes linked below are from chapters other than the zoning chapter that are directly applicable to urban agriculture. Anytime you see a chapter number other than 14, it is part of the existing Philadelphia Code. Only the zoning chapter was recently overhauled according to the process described under the “Major UA Legislation” section. All other chapters will still be in effect on August 22, 2012. Changes to any of the codes other than zoning may be in process, on a different schedule. If you are aware of upcoming changes to codes that affect urban agriculture activities — either zoning or other chapters — please update this page accordingly.


Definition of Key Terms

All of the definitions below — except as noted — are copied and pasted from the new zoning code, accessed in May 2012.

  • Abut
    • To touch or share a contiguous boundary or border, or to be separated only by an alley or shared driveway.
  • Accessory use
    • A use, including all necessary public utility facilities, that is subordinate to and on the same lot as the principal use on a lot and customarily incidental to the principal use. This definition does not apply to signs.
  • Adjacent
    • To touch or share a contiguous boundary or border, or to be separated only by an alley, shared driveway, or street.
  • Arbor 
    • A shaded structure often covered with shrubs, vines, or branches.
  • Awning
    • A temporary or permanent non-loadbearing projection from a building, that is not supported from the ground, designed to provide shade or protection from elements, having a pitched surface that may or may not be used for any other purpose.
  • Building
    • For all uses except historic preservation: a structure having a roof
    • For historic preservation: a structure, its site, and appurtenances created to shelter any form of human activity, including a public interior portion of a building.
  • Building, Completely Enclosed
    • A building having a roof and walls on all sides so that the space within is enclosed in all directions. Where there are pipes, tanks and other apparatus that are themselves completely enclosed, a use carried on within such enclosures shall be considered to be within a completely enclosed building.
  •  Canopy
    • A roof-like cover, supported from the ground or deck, floor, or walls of a structure, for protection from the sun or weather.
  • Construct or Construction
    • For all uses except historic preservation: The erection of a new building or structure.
    • For historic preservation purposes: The erection of a new building, structure, or object upon an undeveloped site.
  • Deck
    • An open structure at least 12 in. above the ground that is located in the front yard, rear yard, or side yard of a property.
  • Deck, Roof
    • An open structure located above the roof framing of a building.
  • Discharge
    • To dispose, deposit, spill, pour, inject, dump, leak, or place by any means, or any material that is disposed, deposited, spilled, poured, injected, dumped, leaded, or placed by any means.
  • District
    • As used in Chapter 14-1000 (Historic Preservation): A geographically definable area possessing a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of buildings, structures, sites, or objects united by past events, plan, or physical development. A district may comprise an individual site or individual elements separated geographically but linked by association, plan, design, or history.
    • For all other purposes: One of the base or overlay zoning districts identified in Chapter 14-400 (Base Zoning Districts) or Chapter 14-500 (Overlay Zoning Districts) and depicted on the Official Zoning Map (See “Key Resources” section on this page for link).
  •  Earth Moving Activity
    • Any construction or other activity that disturbs the surface of land including but not limited to excavations, embankments, land development, subdivision development, and the moving, depositing, or storing of soil, rock, or earth.
  • Easement
    • A right granted for the purpose of limited public or quasi-public access across private land.
    • Any chicken, goose, duck, turkey, goat, sheep, pig, cow, or other farm animal, provided such other farm animal presents a public nuisance due to smell and/or noise. Does not include a cat or dog. (Source: Chapter 10-100 Animals)
  • Farm Animal
    • Any chicken, goose, duck, turkey, goat, sheep, pig, cow, or other farm animal, provided such other farm animal presents a public nuisance due to smell and/or noise. Does not include a cat or dog. (Source: Chapter 10-100 Animals)
  • Farmer’s Market
    • An area for the sale of food crops and non-food crops (e.g., flowers) directly to consumers within an enclosed structure or outdoors on a lot. (NOTE: this is a subcategory of the Retail Sales Use Category, notthe Urban Agriculture Use Category)
  • Fence or Retaining Wall
    • An unroofed barrier, including a retaining wall, forming a partially enclosed structure used to limit ingress or egress to a lot or portion of a lot and that is constructed of materials that are designed and intended to be used primarily for the construction of fences.
  • Height, Building or Structure
    • Except as expressly provided elsewhere in this Zoning Code, the vertical distance from the average ground level at the base of the structure to the top of the structure, provided, that if height is measured on a gable wall of a building, the top of the building shall be considered to be the midpoint height between the eaves and the ridge.
  • Kiosk
    • A structure that does not have a foundation, that contains less than 150 sq. ft. of area, and that is designed and intended to be used primarily for retail sale, display, and accessory advertising of food or merchandise.
  • Lot
    • A parcel of land consisting of a horizontal plane bounded by vertical planes that comprise its front, side, and rear lot lines, and that is intended or designed to be used, developed, or built upon as a unit.
  • Lot Line
    • A boundary line delineating one lot from another lot, street, or any public or private means of vehicular or pedestrian traffic.
  • Principal Building
    • A building in which the principal use of the lot on which the building is located is conducted.
  • Principal Use
    • The main use and primary purpose of a lot or structure as distinguished from an accessory use.
  • Public Access
    • A means of physical approach available to the general public.
  • Registered Community Organization
    • A community organization that is registered with the City Planning Commission and maintains its registration in active status pursuant to rules established by the City Planning Commission.
  • Retaining Wall
    • A structure designed to resist the lateral displacement of soil or other materials in order to protect property or prevent erosion.
  • Sign
    • A name, identification, description, emblem, device, or structure that is affixed to, printed on, or represented directly or indirectly upon a building, structure, or parcel of land; that is illuminated or non-illuminated; visible or intended to be visible from any public place; and that directs attention to a person, place, product, institution, business, organization, activity, or service. Signs shall also include any permanently installed or situated merchandise, including any banner, pennant, placard, or temporary sign, with the exception of window displays and national flags.
    • Note: there are many different types of signs defined in the code, though none is specific to urban agriculture uses — read the rest here.
  • Sign, Accessory 
    • A sign containing copy that directs attention to information, identification, or advertisements strictly incidental to a lawful use of the premises on which the sign is located. This includes signs or devices indicating the business transacted, services rendered, goods sold or produced on the premises, and name or emblem of the person, firm, institution, organization, or activity occupying the premises.
    • Note: there are many additional types of signs defined in the code, though none is specific to urban agriculture uses — read the rest here.
  • Structure
    • As used in Chapter 14-1000 (Historic Preservation): A work made up of interdependent and interrelated parts in a definite pattern of organization constructed by man and affixed to real property, including a public interior portion of a structure.
    • For all other purposes: Any type or form of construction above the ground.
  • Trash and Recycling Storage
    • An enclosure or container for the temporary storage of permitted waste, rubbish, and debris generated on site until those items can be transferred off site for recycling, reprocessing, or disposal.
  • Undeveloped Land
    • Land having one or fewer dwelling units per acre or having structure(s) with an area of 5,000 or less sq. ft. per acre.
  • Variance
    • A relief from the provisions of this Zoning Code that allows use or development of a lot outside the zoning provisions applicable to that lot.
  • Vendor Stand
    • Any cart, table, trailer, equipment, or apparatus that is not a structure; that is designed and intended so as to not be a permanent fixture on a lot; that is used for the retail sale, display, and accessory advertising of merchandise or food; and that is not located on the right-of-way.

Sources: (except as noted for individual definitions)

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