In this zoning appeal originating before the Zoning Board of Adjustment in Philadelphia, the Commonwealth Court was asked to determine the applicability of the pending ordinance doctrine when post submission revisions have been made to plans after the proposed zoning amendment is deemed pending by the Zoning Ordinance. In finding that the doctrine did not apply, the court concluded that the determination of the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections (“L&I”) that the application was complete when filed, overcame objecting neighbors’ arguments that the revisions made the doctrine applicable.


On May 23, 2014 the Dowds filed a zoning/use registration permit to demolish an existing structure, and erect a 6-story structure with an interior parking garage on the first floor. The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) determined the proposed structure was permitted as of right except for the accessory parking garage, which required a special exception. The Dowds submitted appropriate applications for a special exception.  Following submittal, certain revisions were made to the Dowds’ plans based on requests from L&I.  On June 3, 2014, prior to the revisions to the Dowds’ plans, an amendment to the City’s Zoning Ordinance rezoning the Dowds’ property to no longer permit the proposed use, was voted out of committee. The Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) held a hearing on the application. Neighboring property owners (“Objectors”) appeared in opposition to the application. The ZBA voted to grant the requested special exception. Objectors appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and argued for the first time the applicability of the pending ordinance doctrine. The trial court remanded to the ZBA to clarify the facts pertaining to the submittal of the application. At a second hearing, the ZBA determined the date the application was submitted was May 23, 2014, the old zoning ordinance applied, and the pending ordinance doctrine was inapplicable. Objectors again appealed to the trial court, which denied their appeal. Objectors appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. It found that testimony by the L&I reviewer before the ZBA that the application was deemed complete when submitted on May 23, 2014 was sufficient evidence to determine that the pending ordinance doctrine was inapplicable.

Click here to read: Dowds v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, 1826 CD 2016 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Jun. 27, 2017).

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