City Council, approaching year’s end, passes assortment of planning items

By Jared Brey and Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

‘Tis the season to take care of unfinished business, and City Council used the “consent agenda” on Thursday to pass several handfuls of planning bills, with more to come at its final session of the year next week. The consent agenda bundled together 35 bills and resolutions, which were read and unanimously passed all at once. Fifteen other bills were read and voted on according to normal Council procedures.

Among the items passed on the consent agenda was an ordinance introduced by Councilman Darrell Clarke allowing SEPTA to build and maintain a bus shelter at the northwest corner of Frankford and Delaware avenues, across from SugarHouse Casino. Clarke said SEPTA needed an ordinance in order to build a structure that encroaches on the public sidewalk. “It’s actually already there,” Clarke pointed out. “They’re kind of a little ahead of themselves.”

Another ordinance introduced by Clarke extends the boundaries of the Yorktown Special District Controls to include several blocks to the west of its current area. The overlay now extends to Watts Street, just east of Broad. Clarke explained that the ordinance would prevent homes in that area from being rented out for student housing, an issue which he has brought up throughout the process of reforming the zoning code.

City Council also passed legislation allowing Temple University to build a new science building at 12th and Berks streets and a mixed-use parking garage on the block bounded by  Warnock and Berks streets and Montgomery Avenue.

The new science building will replace Barton Hall, and the demolition of Barton will leave Temple room to create its first significant green space. It will contain about 278,000 square feet of classroom space, lecture halls and laboratories and feature an atrium that will connect it to the college of engineering and the college of science and technology buildings.  The hope is that the 241-foot structure will achieve LEED certification. Learn more, and see Temple’s presentation to the Planning Commission, here.

The 1,000-square foot parking garage, with retail on the ground floor, would be built on what is now a dirt lot. Read more here. The ordinance, which amends Temple’s Institutional Development District Master Plan, was introduced by Councilman Clarke.

Another consent agenda item, introduced by Council President Anna Verna and At-Large Councilman Jim Kenney, amends §14-600 of the Philadelphia Code to extend the height restrictions of the Food Distribution Center District from 60 feet to 140 feet. According to Sarah Sachdev, director of legislative affairs for Councilman Kenney, the ordinance was drafted in response to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s effort to consolidate its Pennsylvania distribution centers into one. Sachdev said that one of the responders to the PLCB’s request for proposals needed to show a viable site in Philadelphia for the consolidated center. This ordinance would allow the responder to propose a center that would fit the needs of the PLCB, Sachdev said.

A trio of bills related to energy conservation introduced by Councilwoman Marian Tasco were also passed on the consent agenda. Bills 110787, 110788, and 110789 authorize various municipal agencies to enter into guaranteed energy savings contracts (ESCO) “designed to reduce energy, water, wastewater or other consumption or operating costs at specified City properties …”

Council also passed two measures calling for the installation of traffic light cameras at Bustleton Avenue and Byberry Road, and Grant Avenue and Academy Road in Northeast Philadelphia. These are the gizmos that take photos of drivers who run red lights, resulting in traffic tickets. Both the Bustleton and Grant bills were introduced by District 10 Councilman Brian J. O’Neill.

Councilman Frank DiCicco had a bill passed Thursday which strikes a portion of Race Street at Columbus Avenue. The bill would remove from the city plan the southerly 40 feet, five inches of Race Street between Columbus Avenue and Water Street. DiCicco explained that the portion being struck will be used for utility purposes by Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe.

The consent agenda also included Bill No. 110275, setting a deadline on the development of a billiards hall at 12th and Chestnut. Read more about the legislation here.

Items that remain on the agenda for City Council’s last session of 2011 are bills striking a portion of Bodine Street in Northern Liberties, creating a Neighborhood Improvement District in the area of the Reading Viaduct and—cross your fingers, no matter which side you’re on—adopting a new zoning code for the City of Philadelphia. Check PlanPhilly often for updates on all of these stories.

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