2012 Year in Review: Zoning

This post is a brief look back at some of the biggest stories on the zoning/policy/development beat of 2012. It’s determined in part by which stories were clicked most by PlanPhilly readers and in part by what I, in my limited wisdom, have decided are the “most important.” I’ll be around these parts a bit more often in 2013, so if there are particular topics you’d like to see covered more, just get in touch.

1. The thing about a policy is that it pretty much brings to bear whatever it doesn’t prohibit. And since Philadelphia’s new zoning code, enacted in August after a four-year reform effort, didn’t prohibit City Council from changing its rules—what policy could?—it was sort of asking to be messed with.

As zoning reform was wrapping up around this time last year, City Council asked for a clause to be added to the code calling for various city agencies to issue a report on the one-year anniversary of its enactment to assess how its various provisions are working. But because of some changes Council made this fall, we’ll never know how some of the new code’s provisions might have worked. Not everyone got what he or she wanted in the new zoning code, after all. The latter half of this year was, apparently, for those who didn’t.

2. For a few days in September, it looked like the code’s requirement for a 50-foot stream buffer might be diluted. Nobody is willing to publicly claim responsibility for the suggestion that the buffer be reduced to 25 feet, against the advice of the Water Department and state Department of Environmental Protection, but the suggestion was definitely made. Environmental groups pushed back, and eventually a citywide stream buffer of 50 feet was put into effect.

3. The question of parking is far from resolved. The Zoning Code Commission agreed to lower the minimum amount of parking required in many areas of the city and to remove it altogether in other areas. The idea, in a very small nutshell, is to let developers determine how much parking should go in different areas without incentivizing car ownership from a policy angle. But it’s yet to be seen whether this city has the will to find out what that looks like. 5th-District Councilman and Council President Darrell Clarke has already amended the zoning code to require parking in portions of North Central where the new code had none. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell has suggested she’ll do the same for parts of her district.

4. Back in the spring, Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez introduced a bill that would have stymied the development of a planned project at the site of the former St. Boniface Church, in Norris Square. Norris Square Civic Association, the developer on the project, protested. Things got tense, for a minute, but eventually NSCA and the Councilwoman came to an agreement. NSCA lowered the number of proposed residential units, and construction is underway.

5. Finally, a number of interesting projects have been proposed this year. A mixed-use development is taking shape on a vacant block at 17th and Carpenter. Developers Brown Hill revived their proposal for a 16-story apartment complex at 205 Race Street. Ensemble Real Estate wants to disregard the 100-foot height limit of the Master Plan for the Central Delaware for a condo building it has proposed on Piers 34 and 35.

Contact the reporter at jbrey@planphilly.com and follow him on Twitter @jaredbrey

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