Ambitious agenda for Planning Commission meeting

Oct. 18

By Thomas J. Walsh
For PlanPhilly

Have a light lunch and coffee up for Tuesday’s scheduled 1 p.m. monthly meeting of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission – it’s going to be a long one.

When the day is done, a few major approvals and changes in procedure could be set in motion. If the commissioners adopt the recommendations of the Commission staff, they will have:

•    Approved an amendment to the Sports Stadium District Master Plan allowing a nine-building development for the “Philly Live” complex to be located adjacent to the Wachovia Center.
•    Reduced the number of Zoning Board of Adjustment members needed to make up a quorum.
•    Paved the way for a new Parkside Historic District in West Philadelphia, currently under consideration by the city’s Historical Commission.
•    Created a new overlay template, the “Transit-Oriented Development District,” amending the commercial district portion of the existing zoning code.
•    Heard the opening pitch for a new 131-room Hilton Homewood Suites extended-stay hotel for 41st and Walnut streets.

The Commission will also consider at least eight zoning designation changes that would amend the Philadelphia Zoning Maps in various, specific portions of the city, and weigh in on pending legislation that would change the designation of specific areas where a “demolition moratorium” is in effect.

Alan Urek, director of the Planning Commission’s strategic planning and policy division, will also present the newly designed “Integrated Planning and Zoning Process.”

Philly Live

The stadium plan, from owner-developers the Cordish Co. of Baltimore and Comcast-Spectacor, “would authorize the fine tuning of the Sports Stadium District Master Plan as approved in 1994.”

Though no formal plans were submitted 15 years ago, the concept of a mixed-use sports and entertainment area was introduced. Tuesday’s outline will include nine buildings totaling more than 378,000 square feet, with a 300-room hotel besides – all to be built after the demolition of the Spectrum, which opened in 1967.

“The structures are proposed to be constructed in a fashion which will provide a practical and visual connection between the existing Wachovia Center and Citizens Bank Park,” the commission’s staff wrote, explaining its recommendation for approval. “This proposal is consistent with the Master Plan approved in 1994.”

The commissioners are expected to approve a measure that could greatly impact future Zoning Board of Adjustment hearings. Reacting to complaints from developers and zoning attorneys about too many postponements on key zoning variance requests, a bill sponsored by three City Council members would reduce the number of members of the ZBA that would constitute a quorum – from five to four.

“The implementation of this bill will encourage a more efficient, effective and transparent development process,” the Commission staff wrote. “It will allow the Zoning Board of Adjustment to hear more cases and will decrease the need for certain continuances.”

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