Long in the works, Center City zoning changes to be called for a vote

A zoning bill first introduced more than a year ago appears to be headed for a vote next month.

The bill, introduced by Councilman Mark Squilla, creates a special “Commercial District Control Area” within the existing Center City zoning overlay. The bill impacts an area bounded by South Street, Spring Garden Street and the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.

After an initial round of amendments, the bill was approved by a Council committee in June. More work was done over the summer, and the bill was amended again on Thursday. It could be called up for a vote as soon as October 1st. (Council is not holding its regular meeting next week because apparently Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia.)

The bill was introduced at the request of the Building Industry Association. It is meant to allow greater height and density for some commercial and residential properties in certain parts of Center City. Its first incarnation had a more substantial set of changes.

In its current version, the bill allows additional height and density at certain key corner properties within the special control area, including some along South Street west of Broad.

  • It allows buildings to rise to 55 feet on properties zoned CMX-2 that have frontage on at least three streets, as long as two of the streets are 50 feet wide. CMX-2 properties normally have a height limit of 38 feet.

  • It also reduces the minimum lot size for buildings in RSA-5 and RM-1 zoning districts, the highest-density single-family category and lowest-density multifamily category, respectively.

  • It removes the cap on the maximum number of dwelling units in properties zoned CMX-2 and CMX-2.5, except in a special carve-out of the overlay bounded by Walnut and Lombard, 8th and the Delaware River.

  • It requires non-residential uses on the ground floor of CMX-2 properties.

  • It provides additional height bonuses for certain properties zoned CMX-3.

“The communities have worked on it for about a year and a half, massaged it, so now this is the final product that we have,” Squilla said on Thursday.

Councilmen Darrell Clarke and Kenyatta Johnson, whose districts overlap the affected area, support the bill. The Crosstown Coalition of Civic Associations, which had initially asked for the bill to be held back, is supporting the current version as well.

Some residents are still opposed. Among them, a small group of people living near 23rd and South fear the changes would allow a project to be built at 2300 South which could be substantially similar to one denied by the zoning board last year. That proposal would have replaced a vacant lot with a four-story residential building with retail space on the ground floor. The proposal and its denial remain a point of controversy in the neighborhood.

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