Today, July 24, 2009, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued an opinion affirming the decision of the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment which denied a variance request to allow an accessory sign to be converted into a non-accessory outdoor advertising sign. The Applicant, 1700 Columbus Associates LLC, attempted to circumvent the zoning process by erecting an accessory sign advertising the parking lot for the on-premise business (see above picture) and then tried to argue that the conversion to a non-accessory outdoor advertising sign was a “mere change in the text” on the sign face.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Commonwealth Court were not persuaded by this argument and instead relied upon well-settled caselaw in Pennsylvania that (1) billboards or non-accessory outdoor advertising signs are distinct, separate uses from accessory signs and (2) an unnecessary hardship is required for the granting of a variance from the Philadelphia Zoning Code. Surprisingly, the trial court Judge Esther Sylvester ignored this precedent and overturned the ZBA’s denial of the variance request, much to the disappointment of all of the neighbors and civic groups who had been following this issue.
This decision is certainly a victory for all of the neighbors who were involved with this zoning issue from the beginning. Special thanks to Regina & Francis Kelly, Frank Alphonso and the Pennsport Civic Association for their excellent advocacy and for participating before the Zoning Board of Adjustment.