"Residential Conversion" refers to changing a building from its current or previous use into a residential use. This could involve the conversion of a commercial or institutional building into a single or multi-family residential use, or the conversion of a large single family residence into two or more dwellings.
Residential conversions can offer the following advantages:
- Energy Efficiency: Residential conversions can result in better utilization of large older structures and the use of their "embodied energy". Many of these structures are located in Chester County's boroughs, in the Urban and Suburban Landscapes, and in other developed areas that are in proximity to services and facilities.
- Financial Benefits: Conversion helps the owners of these larger structures meet operation and maintenance costs.
- Meeting Housing Obligations: Residential conversion can help municipalities address their "fair share" responsibilities to provide opportunities for various forms of housing, and in a relatively low-impact manner.
- Municipal Tax Advantages: Residential conversions can increase municipal tax revenues.
- Affordable Housing Opportunities: Residential conversions can offer affordable housing opportunities for elderly, single and young married couples.
Residential conversions can face the following challenges:
- Remodeling Expense: Some larger structures may need to be significantly modified to meet Pennsylvania's Uniform Construction Code requirements for multi-unit occupancy, including separate access, kitchen, bathroom and utility requirements, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. A significant capital investment may be required.
- Potential Land-Use Conflicts: Adjoining land owners could object to the change from single family use to multi-family use with concerns related to a perceived loss of property value, intensification of local activities, transitioning to a multi-family neighborhood, more traffic, and increased parking demands.
- Regulatory Limitations: Municipal zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances may restrict the use of residential conversions.
How to Use This Tool
Policy: Municipalities should investigate the following policy issues as they consider the potential for residential conversions.
- A municipality that wishes to accommodate residential conversions should first verify that there is a demonstrated need for this type of housing in the community. The municipal comprehensive plan may offer guidance in this matter.
- If there is such a need, then the municipality should determine where these conversions should be permitted. An inventory of structures that have the potential for conversion opportunities should be conducted. Historic dwellings, which are often large structures, can present opportunities for residential conversions. Older (but not necessarily historic) dwellings such as those that were constructed in the last half of the 20th Century, may also offer conversion opportunities. Non-residential structures such as former industrial buildings, commercial and office structures can also be potential candidates for residential conversions.
- The streets in the vicinity should be analyzed to determine if on-street parking can meet the need for additional parking. If rear service alleys are available, they could permit access to on-lot parking in rear yard areas. Access to public transit should be evaluated.
- Access to utilities should be considered, because the additional units should each have independent utility service, including sewer and water service.
- The municipality should determine the appropriate ratio of single family dwellings to multi-family dwellings as well as the ratio of owner occupied multi-family dwellings to rental multi-family dwellings, because these ratios can influence the character of a neighborhood. The municipality should closely monitor the neighborhood to evaluate the effects that the conversions may have on the neighborhood's character.
- The municipality should estimate the demands on municipal services that the additional population will have on its ability to provide those services.
Regulations: After the municipality establishes the policies governing residential conversions, regulatory language can be considered.
- The municipality should identify the zoning districts where residential conversions are permitted. This could be shown on a single purpose map, added as special exception or conditional uses within specific zoning districts, or added to the municipal zoning map as an overlay district.
- After the district(s) have been identified, specific parameters related to lot size, eligible structures, and conversion unit size should be formulated. The municipality should use its existing ordinances to establish the area and bulk provisions that would be applicable to conversion residences. This language should reference the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code to address technical details of the conversion construction. Municipalities should also reference the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
- A common regulation used by municipalities for residential conversions requires that the exterior appearance of the existing dwelling should remain as if it were a single family dwelling, with exceptions for additional doors and fire escapes; these requirements help to mitigate perceptions that the character of the neighborhood is in transition. However, external modifications can be complicated by historic preservation measures that may be applicable to potential candidates for conversion.
- Maximum residential densities should be established, using a maximum density per lot, minimum floor areas, and (indirectly) through minimum on-site open space and parking requirements.
- Franklin Township permits residential conversion in the V-Village District (Section 27-801) of the Township Zoning Ordinance. Franklin Township's Village District is located in the vicinity of Kemblesville and Chesterville. Specific provisions relating to residential conversions are included in the Supplemental Standards (Section 27-1711) of the Zoning Ordinance.
- Pennsbury Township permits residential conversion in the MU-Multi-Use zoning district (Article XIV) by conditional use, but the dwelling to be converted must be a qualified historic structure. Specific provisions related to the conversion are contained in the chapter entitled Historic Resources Overlay District (Article XVII). The definition of the term includes conversion of a barn into two apartments.
- Tredyffrin Township permits residential conversion of existing single-family dwellings in the Residence District and Rural-Conservation zoning district by special exception. Specific provisions are listed in Section 208-106 General Provisions in the Zoning Ordinance.
- Section 604.(4)of Act 247, The Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), requires that the provisions of zoning ordinances shall be designed (among other purposes) "To provide for the use of land within the municipality for residential housing of various dwelling types encompassing all basic forms of housing, including single-family and two-family dwellings, and a reasonable range of multifamily dwellings in various arrangements,…"
- The Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code