Council debates industrial zoning changes in Southwest Philly

Tracey Gordon, a member of the Southwest Concerned Citizens group, testified at a Council committee hearing on Tuesday that automobile chop shops and salvage yards have been opening in near-residential areas of Southwest Philadelphia and causing problems for neighbors: discarded tires and car parts, noise, and fumes. 2nd-District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson wants to stem the spread of these businesses, and his constituents and Council colleagues seem to be on board.

But there is less consensus about how to do it.

Johnson’s proposed solution has two parts. First, remap all of the I-2 medium industrial zoning districts in an area bounded by Lindbergh Boulevard, 84th Street, Cobbs Creek, Springfield Avenue and 54th Street to ICMX, an industrial/commercial mixed-use category. Second, change what’s allowed in ICMX by prohibiting all of the uses in the Vehicle and Vehicular Equipment Sales and Services category, except for gas stations. This change would require commercial and personal vehicle repair, maintenance, sales and rental uses; equipment and supplies sales uses; and vehicle paint shops to get zoning variances before opening in ICMX categories.

In short, replace all the I-2 zoning in the area in question with a more restrictive version of the ICMX category.

One objection to that solution was raised by both the Planning Commission, at its meeting last month, and Councilman Bill Green, at Tuesday’s hearing: the bills would change a citywide zoning policy—the ICMX zoning category—to solve a localized problem. Some members of the Planning Commission recommended solving the problem by creating an overlay in the area of concern, even though one goal of the zoning reform was to reduce the number of overlays in the code.

Councilman Green’s suggestion is to change the I-2 zoning districts in the area of concern to another zoning district that already prohibits the offending uses. A commercial mixed-use or industrial/residential mixed-use category would do the trick, Green said.

Others are concerned that prohibiting those uses in the ICMX category would prevent legitimate, neighborhood-friendly business—things like Pep Boys, Autozone, and so on—from opening up in areas that want them, without going to the zoning board.

Councilman Johnson elected to hold his two bills on Tuesday and work to figure out the best solution.

Meanwhile, Councilman Jim Kenney pointed to a larger problem: the longer the gap between the new zoning code’s adoption and the completion of the neighborhood remappings being undertaken by the Planning Commission, the more opportunity there is for noxious uses to be built in incorrectly-zoned areas by right.

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