How the new zoning code will affect East Falls and Mt. Airy

Zoning code reform doesn’t sound very sexy. But all that esoteric talk of “allowed uses” and “C2 districts” can determine how bike-friendly a city is, whether a gun shop can open in your neighborhood, or how urban farms operate. 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. In this short series, PlanPhilly will analyze how the new code affects neighborhoods in the Northwest Philadelphia.

East Falls and Mt. Airy

Urban farmers in both these areas have a lot to consider about the zoning code reform.

For instance, market farms and community gardens — such as the Weaver’s Way Co-op farm — must have a permanent fence around their perimeters. Any food that comes from Weaver’s Way must be sold either on site or in a location where retail sales are permitted, which may affect the co-op’s mission to serve communities that typically lack access to fresh food. And all farmers markets throughout the city — like the new Farm to City site in Mt. Airy — must have two parking spaces.

How else will zoning reform impact this community? The proposed Neighborhood Commercial Area Overlay in East Falls differs greatly from the present one, which affects everything from new businesses to the height of buildings.

For instance, trash-storage requirements now exist for every building in the area, and restaurants must vent their cooking and exhaust fumes through the roof. Under the new code, these rules don’t apply. Additionally, the sale of live animals, fish and poultry is not currently allowed in the East Falls overlay — but will be in the new code. And all those signage restrictions that now govern the neighborhood, making sure that free-standing signs are not higher than 6 feet and no signs project above roof lines? They vanish in the draft code.

These proposed changes have already drawn the ire of neighbors. “In East Falls, the proximity of residential areas to restaurants make cooking odors a problem,” the East Falls Community Council wrote to the Zoning Code Commission this fall. “Venting from the sides or rear of restaurants adversely affects nearby residents.”

Conversely, a part of the zoning code reform that remains almost completely unchanged in the Mt. Airy and East Falls communities is the Wissahickon Watershed Overlay, a set of development standards that are meant to prevent erosion and improve water quality. It’s one of the only overlays that the Zoning Code Commission didn’t hack in its draft — because while neighborhoods change, flooding in the Northwest never does.

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