Council support for O’Neill’s zoning changes still iffy

Councilman Brian O’Neill appears to be sticking mostly to his guns regarding his proposed changes to use tables in the CMX-2 and CMX-2.5 zoning districts, which generally apply to neighborhood commercial corridors across the city.

His original proposal would restrict 15 uses in those districts beyond what was decided on by the Zoning Code Commission and City Council last December. Several members of City Council—in particular Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez, whose 7th District has more CMX-2 than any other—expressed opposition to the changes in a Rules Committee hearing last week.

On Tuesday afternoon, O’Neill circulated to his Council colleagues a handful of amendments to his two bills. In a memo, he explained that the latest version of his bills makes storage facilities and community gardens a Special Exception use in the two districts, rather than prohibiting them outright like his earlier proposal did.  He also changed dry cleaning from a special exception to a permitted use, and prohibited gas stations, vehicle repair, and personal vehicle sales and rental in CMX-2, where they were previously allowed by right or by special exception. Under his amendments, the height limit in his proposed CMX-2.2 district would go to 55 feet from 38.

The amendments don’t address the central controversy of his proposals, which—at least judging from the public comment portion of last week’s Committee hearing—is that his proposals would require zoning board approval for community gardens in the CMX-2 commercial corridor district. Though the burden is lighter to get a special exception than a variance, both require applicants to go to the zoning board.

And the amendments did not appear to assuage the strongest opponent of the proposals either. Councilwoman Sánchez quickly responded to all Council members repeating her opposition to the changes and asking them to vote no on the proposed amendments. Full text of her message obtained by PlanPhilly below:

“Thank you Councilman but I still cannot accept these changes because it impacts current and planned projects in my district.
As I said in the hearing, these restrictions should be done by individual council districts through the mapping process.
60% of my commercial area is impacted.  I must remind you that I have 10 transit stops along the El.  This area cannot be all commercial and should be allowed to developed based on their community plans with limited restrictions.
I cannot support this and I ask my district and at-large colleagues not to create a burdensome zoning process for me in my district.  I am working too hard with 7 privately funded community development plans.

The administration’s recommendations are better but also not ideal.
Additionally I am not sure why we are creating an entire new code section when we can made minor amendments to the newly approved code.  Council is taking on a lot of public criticism unnecessarily.
We need more time and discussion.
I ask that you Not vote for this in its current form.  I am willing to continue to work on revisions to make this better.
Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez”

PlanPhilly has not reviewed amendments proposed by the Planning Commission, but deputy director Eva Gladstein summarized them in an email thusly: 

        “Make certain uses a “Special Exception” in CMX-2:  automobile repair, gasoline stations, transit stations, and visitor accommodations.These were the uses that were Council repeated most often as concerns. Unregulated half-ways homes and boarding homes, another stated concern, are already prohibited as they fall in the prohibited category of “Group Living.” While “Personal Care homes” are permitted, they are limited by the code to include only those under state regulation.  

         Continue to permit apartments above retail in CMX-2 and CMX-2.5

        Leave CMX-2.5 intact.  This is a new district that was carefully created to replace 17 neighborhood-based overlays. To revise it, as Bill No. 120917 proposes, would remove controls that these neighborhoods fought for and have lived with for many years, and once again leave them unprotected.  

        Refrain from creating a new “CMX-2.2” district through Bill 120916, which adds no value and only serves to the clutter-up the new zoning code.”

In addition, Gladstein sent the following message to members of City Council Tuesday evening: 

“Dear Councilmembers – A number of you have contacted us today asking for our response to the amendments that Councilman O’Neill sent out this afternoon with regard to Bill Nos. 120916 & 120917. We are making this response available to everybody. 
Based upon the amendments that the Administration offered on Friday afternoon, and the Councilman’s amendments offered today, there are two uses in CMX-2 where we agree as to how they should be treated: permitting dry cleaners by-right and requiring a Special Exception approval for transit stations. We believe that there is room for discussion about permitted uses in CMX-2, although we continue to disagree about the treatment of 13 uses in CMX-2 such as animal services, prepared foods shops (e.g., delicatessens and ice cream shops), community gardens and market farms, artist studios, and structured parking.
However, we strongly object to changing the treatment of uses and dimensional standards (additional height and requiring parking to be in the rear) in CMX-2.5. These should remain as they are; the 17 communities that have had the benefit of neighborhood commercial overlays over a number of years (e.g., East Falls, Manayunk, Passyunk Avenue) should not have to re-zone to enjoy the same standards that they have today. 
In addition, the bills would prohibit apartments above retail in a number of CMX-2 and CMX-2.5 areas, and we strongly disagree with that change. 
I hope this information is helpful to you. We would be happy to discuss any questions you may have.”  

Council’s Rules Committee will hold a continued public meeting on the proposals at 9 a.m. Thursday morning.

Contact the reporter at and follow him on Twitter @jaredbrey

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