New location, same issues for Bustleton Civic members

Zoning was the primary focus of last night’s meeting of the Greater Bustleton Civic League, with the first order of business being a presentation from Eva Gladstein, executive director of the Zoning Code Commission, and Michael Thompson, Northeast representative for the City Planning Commission.

GBCL residents, who came together last night for the first time at Baldi Middle School, paid close attention, as neighborhood zoning issues often cause tension at the monthly meetings.

The three-module plan is expected to be presented to City Council by the fall. The revisions have been broken into three chunks:

  • administrative procedures
  • districts and uses
  • development standards

Gladstein said in addition to the monthly community meetings across the city, in the future, the commission will seek to help those who feel their districts require remapping. To make the zoning process more approachable to those who refer to it most — residents and business owners — the new codes will be written more simply and in a less convoluted way.

“It’s not always clear,” when the community should be notified about zoning, Gladstein admitted, and added that the new plan will clarify where certain matters should be directed. Currently, half of the cases heard by the Zoning Board of Adjustment are for use variances.

That said, it’s been written into the new code that anyone who feels “impacted” by a zoning issue will be able to testify for or against it, and there will not be geographical limitations to this, as GBCL Zoning Officer Dominic Ragucci previously thought.

Before the nearly hour-long presentation ended, Thompson, who represents the Northeast for the City Planning office, encouraged residents with concerns to call him (215-683-4632), telling them: “I love talking on the phone.”

The second zoning issue addressed at the meaning was one that’s no longer relevant. Representatives from Ombudsman School at 1801 Grant Ave. were on hand to explain why they failed to appear before the GBCL before opening in January. Though the biggest problems GBCL members had was with the school’s last-minute move-in, some residents and board members also expressed concerns about improper zoning approvals.

Sue Fila and Matt Schwartz of Ombudsman assured the GBCL that the accelerated school does have the proper certifications from L&I, and that the 60-student facility is in no way a behavioral school. As GBCL President John McKeever explained, only students from Washington, Lincoln and Northeast high schools who are looking to make up lots credits can attend Ombudsman.

Fila explained that the nation-wide company is new to Philadelphia, and has never been expected to meet with a community organization before opening a new school. She went on to say that the site was approved by the School District of Philadelphia, and that she “would love to come back” to the GBCL to update residents on the school’s progress.

The meeting ended informally, with residents seeking private conversations with the Ombudsman representatives.

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