Despite reforms, Philadelphia City Council continues ‘spot zoning’

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Even before a second casino license is awarded for Philadelphia, City Council is considering zoning changes focusing one the area around one proposed site for a gaming hall.

This kind of targeted zoning change was supposed to be a thing of the past. 

The zoning “overlay” bill would prevent check cashing agencies and pawnshops from setting up near the site of a proposed casino at Broad and Callowhill Streets in North Philadelphia.

Councilman William Greenlee says it’s designed to keep people who lose big at the casino from having quick access to cash at a high interest rate.

“The communities involved really do not want to see these kind of establishments on their streets. They are trying to sort of improve their area anyway,” Greenlee said. 

Councilman Jim Kenney says he doesn’t see any problem with creating new zoning overlays even though the entire zoning code was replaced in 2012.  That first complete overhaul of zoning regulations in five decades was supposed to prevent this type of so-called “spot zoning,” however  Kenney says small changes are necessary.

“It’s like wallpapering your house without stripping the wallpaper off the walls,” Kenney said. “Remember years ago you would wallpaper one on top of the other on top of the other and eventually it got so thick you had to clear it off and we cleaned off the wallpaper and now we are putting some wallpaper back on. That’s just the nature of zoning.”

The full council still has to approve the changes.  The casino proposed for the North Philly location, The Provence, is just one of five competing proposals for the city’s second casino.  The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board gets to decide who wins the license for a new gaming hall.  

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