G-town reacts to planned zoning code changes

It tells us where to shop, where to sleep and where to go out for a dinner date, and it hasn’t been revamped since the 1960s. But now, just months before a new Philadelphia zoning code goes to City Council, local community members respond.


In Germantown, the general consensus among residents PlanPhilly talked to is that the reformed zoning code will give the community more clout.


  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“In the past, it seemed like you got things through depending on who you knew,” says Betty Turner, co-founder of Germantown Community Connection. “I think this zoning code is going to help everyone play by the same rules.”

Specifically, she points to the likelihood that there will be fewer Zoning Board of Adjustment hearings under the new code — hearings she believes “usually went the way of developers, and didn’t benefit the community.”


Additionally, Turner is happy about the proposed zoning code’s rules on “Registered Community Organizations,” or RCOs. So long as RCOs register with the city annually, the Planning Commission will inform them of large-scale and significant projects. (Find out exactly when else the Commission will contact RCOs in the zoning code draft.) This, she and others hope, will encourage more neighborhood oversight.


“There’s no one in Germantown paying attention [to development] now,” says Irv Acklesberg, co-chair of the Southwest Germantown Association. “And the powers that be have always liked it that way.”


Something else that may help encourage neighborhood stewardship in Germantown is the proposed code’s Civic Design Review Committee (CDRC), a group of architects, planners, designers and one community member who will provide a recommendation to developers about larger projects. Though its recommendation will be non-binding, the CDRC at least ensures that one member of the community is involved. The current code offers no such promise.


But John Churchville, chairman of the Liberation Fellowship Community Development Corporation, believes the new code won’t lead to true reform unless enforcement priorities change along with it.


He points out that City Council passed a zoning ordinance in 2008, which prohibited cell phone stores, wig shops and other types of businesses in parts of Germantown, but “was of no force and effect.”


Churchville worries that the new zoning code will suffer a similar fate.


“Given the city’s and state’s financial woes,” he says, “there is barely an infinitesimal likelihood that additional resources will become available to deal with enforcement issues.”


Philadelphia’s Zoning Code Commission is currently finalizing a whole new draft of the city’s zoning code, which will go to City Council next year. This article is part of a short series from PlanPhilly, which analyzes how the new code affects neighborhoods in the Northwest, and finds out what residents think about the changes.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal