City Council voted on Thursday to approve a bill that allows slightly taller and denser buildings at key corner properties in Center City.
The bill has been in the works for a year and a half, initially introduced by Councilman Mark Squilla at the request of the Building Industry Association of Greater Philadelphia. The bill was initially met with confusion by neighborhood groups and even some development advocates. It’s been the subject of continuous negotiations between Squilla’s office, city planners, and community groups since it was introduced, and it’s been amended three times already this fall.
In its current version, the bill makes a number of intricate changes to the Center City zoning overlay, covering the area roughly bounded by Spring Garden Street, Bainbridge Street, and the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. The bill increases the height limit for certain corner properties zoned CMX-2, a neighborhood commercial corridor zoning designation, from 38 feet to 55 feet, provided that the properties have frontage on three streets, two of which are 50 feet wide or wider. (Yes, that specific.) It also reduces the minimum lot size required for certain residential properties within the same overlay area, but extended south to Washington Avenue.
For the last two weeks, residents of the area around 23rd and South have been testifying in opposition to the bill at City Council hearings. Some of those residents helped defeat a proposal to build a four-story mixed-use project at 2300 South Street before the zoning board, and worried that the overlay bill would essentially allow that same project to be built without any variances.
On Thursday, none of those opponents appeared before Council. Instead, twenty witnesses representing the BIA and various community groups signed up to testify in support of the bill. Council President Darrell Clarke asked for a few representatives to testify on behalf of everyone. Lauren Vidas, president of South of South Neighborhood Association, answered the call.
“This is a bill that has gone through a number of amendments …” Vidas said. “We think it strikes a very good balance between supporting density and bringing new businesses and new folks into Center City while at the same time respecting the context of the residential neighborhoods involved.”
Councilman Squilla said on Thursday that the bill would support more residential and commercial density in Center City, and that it had attracted support from a broad range of interests over the course of the amendment process. The bill would allow a larger-scale project to be built at 2300 South than what the current zoning allows, he said, but developers couldn’t build the exact proposal that was previously defeated without going back to the zoning board.