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Philadelphia Launches the Permit Navigator: A Pilot Program to Simplify the Building Permit Process


In order to improve access to information about necessary permits, approvals, and other requirements for some residential and commercial projects, Philadelphia has launched a digital tool called the Permit Navigator. 

The Permit Navigator pilot has been started by the City’s Smart City PHL team. This online resource is intended to make it easier to access details about the licenses, approvals, and specifications needed for particular kinds of residential and commercial projects. Through a series of questions, the Permit Navigator leads users to a summary page with estimated costs and links to more resources to help them continue with their project. 

The Department of Commerce, the Department of Licenses, and Inspections (L&I), and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) all collaborated closely with the SmartCity PHL team at the Office of Innovation of Technology to launch this pilot. The pilot project may expand to include more features if Philadelphians enjoy using it and find it useful for learning about the city’s permitting process. 

The Permit Navigator tool was developed in response to requests for help figuring out which permits were required for their projects from business owners and homeowners. The application does not change the current permitting procedures; it is only for informational purposes.  

Which use cases does the permit navigator include?

Right now, the Permit Navigator covers only a few residential and commercial uses. Permits for remodeling current one- or two-family homes are considered residential uses. The majority of business uses are for storefronts. 

The Permit Navigator currently works as a pilot and has no influence over the current permit procedure. It excludes all permitted uses in the City. Selected residential and commercial use cases are included in the Permit Navigator.

Residential use cases

Permits for renovations to established one- or two-family homes fall under the category of residential use cases. 

At this time, it doesn’t include permits related to:

  • New construction.
  • Mixed-use buildings.
  • Buildings with more than two units, including individual units in a condominium.

Business use cases

Commercial storefronts are primarily used in business use cases, such as: 

  • Use of commercial services 
  • Office usage 
  • Institutional, civic, and public use 
  • Use of retail sales 

With the launch of the online Permit Navigator tool, users can now find out which permits and approvals are required for particular residential and commercial project types. The Permit Navigator leads users through a series of questions regarding their projects and then directs them to a summary page with an estimate of the costs and links to the data they require on phila.gov to continue with the permitting process. 

According to Mark Wheeler, the city’s chief information officer, “The City of Philadelphia saw the need to create a digital tool to make information for smaller residential and commercial projects more accessible and centrally available to public users.” 

The full list of current uses in this pilot is available online. The Permit Navigator is a pilot and not a permanent tool. The City invites potential users are to attend an upcoming information sessions.

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