City Council passes a raft of planning and zoning measures

Though most people’s attention at Thursday’s City Council meeting was focused on the contentious issues of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan and School District funding, Council moved on a raft of measures relating to development and planning as its summer recess draws near.

Here’s an overview:

I-95 condemnation corridor

Over the objections of the SCRUB, an anti-blight advocacy group, and some local residents, Council unanimously passed a bill that would allow billboard owners along Interstate 95 to relocate them after the highway’s reconstruction without going through the normal permitting process.

The highway, which is reaching the end of its projected lifespan, is being slowly rebuilt by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, a process that will require nearby billboards to be taken down.

This effectively grandfathers them in and avoids forcing them to get variances ― though Councilwoman Joan Krajewski’s Northeast Philadelphia district, which includes much of the highway, is exempt from the legislation.

However, in a move opposed by the Planning Commission, the bill also allows existing billboards to relocate to an area within 300 feet of a residentially zoned property ― which isn’t allowed under the zoning code.

Staff attorney Stephanie Kindt unsuccessfully asked that Council reconsider a proposed amendment by the Planning Commission that would prevent signs from relocating near residential areas, saying the billboards are “very impactful” to the quality of life of nearby residents.

Club Risque billboard

In another billboarding move, Council passed an ordinance that would legalize a South Philadelphia sign advertising Club Risque, a strip club located near Columbus Boulevard, and a suburban body shop.

The Department of Licenses and Inspections has been in a long-running battle with the owner of the property on which the sign sits, adjacent to a daycare, over whether the sign was a permitted accessory use or a forbidden non-accessory use.

Ron Patterson, the attorney representing the property owner, asked Council to approve the measure because the sign’s use is currently “handcuffed” by L&I, which has issued several violations against the property.

Kindt told couincilmembers that the sign represented an “illegal use” and the ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Frank DiCicco, an instance of “spot zoning” that “flies in the face” of the city’s efforts to update the zoning code. The measure was opposed by the Planning Commission.

Waterfront music venue

A bill sponsored by DiCicco that paves the way for a new Live Nation music venue on Richmond Street near the waterfront also won unanimous approval.

The bill was opposed by neighborhood groups ― including the Fishtown and Olde Richmond civic associations and the New Kensington Community Development Corp. ― because of concerns over increased traffic and crime in the area.

DiCicco has said that the venue complies with the master plan for the waterfront currently in development.

Cash for Gold

Council also approved a measure by Councilman Darrell Clarke that would regulate cash-for-gold stores.

The bill closes a loophole in the city’s zoning code that allows cash-for-gold shops to operate where pawn shops are forbidden because they currently aren’t named in the law.

The bill was inspired by a cash-for-gold establishment that opened up near SugarHouse casino. That store would be grandfathered in.

Chestnut Hill College

Council gave the OK to Chestnut Hill College’s proposed Institutional Development District.

The development would allow for the expansion of the college onto an adjacent campus. Though some neighborhood activists have said the proposed development could affect stormwater runoff into Wissahickon Creek, the Planning Commission approved the district, saying it met environmental concerns.

52nd Street vendors

An ordinance creating a sidewalk vending area along 52nd Street was also unanimously passed by Council.

The measure was sponsored by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and is an important part of a Commerce Department plan to revitalize the corridor.

The bill will regulate the existing, unlicensed, vendors along the corridor by limiting the number of vendors. The Commerce Department sought the bill because licensing will allow it to provide business assistance to the vendors and provide them with new vending carts.

Urban redevelopment plans

Council also approved amendments to several of the city’s urban renewal areas, paving the way for the Redevelopment Authority to acquire parcels through eminent domain for redevelopment projects.

Among them is an amendment to the Model Cities Urban Renewal Area in North Philadelphia will allow the RDA to acquire 54 properties on the block bounded by 21st and 22nd streets, Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Nicholas Street. The properties will be conveyed to Project H.O.M.E., which plans to build a health and wellness center there in conjunction with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.


Two bills were amended, and thus couldn’t be voted on.

DiCicco introduced an amendment to an ordinance that would allow businesses to put up glitzy billboards along Market East in an attempt to spur development. The measure was opposed by preservationists because it didn’t prevent billboards from being installed on four historic properties along Market East.

Billboards would only be allowed if owners invest at least $10 million in their property.

Preservation Alliance executive director John Gallery came out in support of the bill with the amendment. Though a copy of the amendment wasn’t immediately available, it appears to prevent billboards from going up on those properties.

And Clarke introduced his amendment to a bill that would allow 600 North Broad Associates to build a new vestibule and ramp for the eponymous property. The ramp would be located on the south side of Mount Vernon Street.

The former Wilkie Buick site is expected to be home to eateries and other projects operated by some of Philadelphia’s biggest names in food: Stephen Starr, Marc Vetri, and caterer Joe Volpe. The bill also names the new restaurant that’s expected to go in the property: Gastronomy.

The text of the amendment was not immediately available.

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