Working to preserve the quality of life for Media Borough residents and businesses
The Borough of Media has become one of the hottest places to live and do business within the Philadelphia suburbs. Media Borough Council and the Code Enforcement Department have been busy at work and remain committed to ensuring that both residents and businesses flourish and thrive within our community. While zoning and building codes are closely related, they serve different functions. In a nutshell, zoning codes regulate how a given section of land can be used and what type of businesses can utilize the land and its structures; on the other hand, building codes regulate the details of the structures themselves.
Zoning ordinances establish areas where a business or resident may be located. They are also written to limit the size of the development on the property. The Borough of Media has designated zoning districts. The purpose of these districts is to control development and usage of land. Zoning is intended to protect a community from excessive density and to ensure that the character of our unique borough remains intact.
The Media Borough zoning classification system is simple with 4 residential zones (R1 – R4), a municipal, educational, recreational and community use district (MERC), an office district (O), a retail, office and apartment district (ROA), a highway, business office district (HBO), and an industrial district (I).
Keeping zoning simple in Media is good for residents and businesses alike. Larger municipalities will sometimes have multiple residential zoning classifications due to the variations in residential uses within the municipality. In Media, the diversity in housing within the borough adds to the flavor and character of “Everybody’s Hometown”. Plus Media is less than one square mile, with mixed residential and commercial throughout the borough – a unique environment not found in many other municipalities. Keeping the residential zoning classifications simple in Media allows a variety of housing to co-exist within neighborhoods, streets and blocks.
Sometimes a land development project will require a zoning variance. In these cases the developer must fill out an application, available through the Code Enforcement Department, that will ultimately go before the Zoning Hearing Board. All neighbors within 200 feet of the applicant property receive notifications prior to the Zoning Hearing Board meeting.
Zoning variance applications are reviewed through a specific process that closely analyzes land use and neighborhood characteristics. They go through several boards and committees before a decision is made. The usual sequence starts with the Code Enforcement Department. From there, Borough Council’s Community Development Committee may analyze the variance application to assess its impact on the community. Then the Planning Commission will evaluate the application and make a recommendation to Borough Council about a course of Council action upon the application.
The Planning Commission recommendation to Borough Council typically takes one of three forms: take no further action, support the application, or authorize the municipal solicitor to oppose the application. You may access a more detailed explanation of the process here.
Law requires that a zoning decision be based on facts (traffic concerns, impact on public works, etc.). Zoning variances must also comply with land development allowances. The percent of land that must remain pervious varies per zone, and typically no more than 30% of the lot can be developed without a variance. The zoning process therefore works in black and white and has clearly-delineated standards.
Residents and businesses are urged to become familiar with the Media Borough zoning map and code directory before renovations or building plans begin, to avoid confusion and changes based on the code. Jim Jeffery, the borough’s Code Enforcement Director and board and zoning officer, urges residents considering a project that may involve zoning relief to schedule an appointment with the zoning officer at the start of a project to see what would be allowed. It is better to come in at the start for guidance on a renovation or addition before contractors have bid the job to make sure all codes and zoning ordinances are being followed.
Both the Zoning Hearing Board and the Planning Commission are appointed by Borough Council. The Planning Commission is defined by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) as an advisory body while the Zoning Hearing Board’s decisions are binding. A Zoning Hearing Board is charged under the MPC to be an independent, impartial body and is prohibited by the MPC from being influenced by outside sources.
Once Zoning Hearing Board members are appointed they are autonomous of Council. The members of the Zoning Hearing Board serve 4-year terms and can be re-appointed for consecutive terms. Zoning Hearing Board members are regular residents of Media, not necessarily a certain type of person or possessing a certain area of expertise. The Borough Council looks within the community for succession for the board as well. Mr. Jeffery believes that board members with tenure and longevity are beneficial as they have a good idea of how the town is changing and how those changes affect the character of our community.
Over the past 20 years, Media Borough has seen many changes. People move to the borough because of its walkability, proximity to public transportation and diverse housing options. In the past, the trend was for homeowners to split large properties into multifamily apartments, but this has reversed in recent years. Many people moving into the borough now are more likely to convert a multifamily home back into a single family home. We have also seen a lot of infill development with several homes built close together on land previously occupied by a single home. Large outside investors are increasingly looking to Media for development opportunities, such as the recently completed West End Walk and West End Flats. Media has little open space available for development. Most new projects are business conversions or tear-downs of existing buildings. Examples include the re-built Media-Upper Providence Free Library building (2016) and the former CVS building on Baltimore Avenue near Radnor Street, which is being developed into a medical facility by Nemours/Dupont.
Media Borough is fortunate to have so many good people within the Code Department and on the Zoning Hearing Board, the Planning Commission and the Community Development Committee who truly care for the unique community that forms “Everybody’s Hometown”, Media, PA.
Click here to see more information on Media Borough’s zoning and code laws.