How the blue-line zoning code draft affects N.W. Philly

Last week, the Zoning Code Commission (ZCC) released its blue-line draft of the city’s new zoning code, which details the most recent changes to the code — and it affects everything from where community farms are permitted to how bed and breakfasts operate in Northwest Philly.

In December, when the ZCC released its most recent draft at the time, it was clear that communities could have a real say in the new zoning code if they were loud enough. The East Falls Community Council and the East Falls Development Corporation, for instance, won their old signage restrictions back, in part because they gave so much feedback to the ZCC.

Again, this seems to be the case: In the new blue-line draft, the ZCC restored the setback requirements from Kelly Drive in the East Falls overlay, which applies to many commercial properties in the neighborhood. According to Eva Gladstein, the ZCC’s executive director, this was at the behest of the East Falls community. The East Falls Community Council also lobbied the ZCC to keep K-12 schools out of their overlay — and won. Educational uses are now prohibited in the new CMX-2.5 district, which will apply not only to the East Falls overlay, but to other neighborhood commercial areas with existing overlays, like Germantown Avenue.

The blue-line draft also expands where market and community-supported farms can operate. In the previous draft, they couldn’t operate in RSD-1, RSD-2 or RSD-3 districts — these are various residential single-family districts — or SP-INS, an institutional district. Now, market and community-supported farms are permitted there by “special exception,” which requires approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

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“We had numerous comments from supporters of market and community-supported farms,” says Gladstein, “from folks in the Northwest — Germantown, Mt. Airy — and some referencing farms in the Northwest, including at Saul High School and at Awbury Arboretum.”

In the new draft, the ZCC also expanded the stream buffer from 25 feet to 50 feet, which will apply to Green Tree Run.

“The current code requires a 50-foot setback in the Wissahickon Watershed controls,” explains Gladstein, “and we wanted to replicate that setback for all of the city’s watersheds.”

Also, the ZCC changed the standards for bed and breakfasts, so they can now have only four guest rooms in residential single-family detached and residential single-family attached districts, and eight guest rooms in residential multi-family districts. Gladstein says this was an issue that frequently came up in community meetings in Germantown and Mt. Airy.

At their next meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 23, the ZCC will vote on whether to send the proposed zoning code to City Council for approval.

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