ZCC member Peter Kelsen
By Thomas J. Walsh
Wednesday’s scheduled meeting of the Zoning Code Commission was the second monthly meeting in a row to be cancelled, but two commissioners said this morning that there’s no cause for alarm. The cancellations were made because there is simply nothing to discuss at the moment.
A group of newly hired consultants is at work on the beginning stages of re-drafting the city’s 45-year-old zoning code, and a nine-member hiring committee, which has been meeting frequently, just submitted four candidates to Mayor Nutter for the ZCC’s open executive director job, they said.
“We never anticipated that every meeting would be [held],” said Peter Kelsen, a zoning commissioner and land use attorney for Blank Rome LLC. “There will be periods when the commission needs to deal with things, and other times when [it] does not need to meet because there is nothing formal to consider.”
Natalia Olson de Savyckyj, a member of the city’s zoning and planning commissions with a day job as a transportation planner at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, wishes the ZCC would have met anyway.
“There are other things that we can do,” she said. “A conversation, or at least get together and set guidelines and priorities for the consultants. Summer is usually really slow, but most of us are here in the city and are really energetic, and want to get something done.”
Olson is happy, though, that the hiring committee’s work is almost finished. Both she and Kelsen said they are confident Nutter will make his decision well in advance of Labor Day. The ZCC will likely meet in August to confirm the mayor’s choice, Kelsen said, if not sooner in a special meeting.
Olson also said progress has been made since Nutter replaced commissioners appointed by Mayor Street last year with six of his own, shortly after taking office. City Council approved the ZCC’s request for a two-year extension on the new code, along with $200,000 of additional funding for outside help. Two firms were hired – Clarion Associates and Duncan Associates – along with about eight other subcontractors that will be handling specialized matters such as urban design, Web tools and sustainability issues. “They’re a really impressive group,” she said.
By September or October, the new director, the consultants and commissioners will begin community outreach meetings around the city, a very necessary first step, Olson said.
“It hasn’t been done in such a long time, and if you don’t get the community’s input and they haven’t taken ownership of it, they are really going to be resistant to change,” she said. “It’s part of the mandate. It’s a good thing. We haven’t really gone out citywide before.”
Kelsen said the consultants have already completed “a lot of diagnostics,” meaning presentations on sustainability concepts, explanations of different types of modern zoning, and details on environmental issues with the help of the Water Department and Green Plan Philadelphia, among other things. He said the diagnostic process also is examining how the current code and the Zoning Board of Adjustment are operating, and why there are so many appeals. They are looking at “what’s going on out there reflective of where the industry is moving in terms of … best practices, those kinds of things.”
The ZCC’s goal is to have a new city zoning code in place by June 2010.
“I think public awareness has been heightened in a positive way,” Kelsen said. “Come the fall, we’ll hit the ground running.”
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