Officials hope zoning overlay will connect Old City, Northern Liberties

Planning Commission officials spent the summer working out the details of a new zoning overlay for East Callowhill, in hopes of transforming the narrow area separating Old City and Northern Liberties from an industrial desert into a walkable neighborhood with new apartments and commercial projects.

The legislation, which was recommended by the Commission on Tuesday, rezones the area bounded by 2nd, 6th, Spring Garden and Callowhill streets—31 parcels in all—to CMX-3, a medium-density commercial category that matches the zoning of the Central Delaware. The area is currently zoned I-2 for industrial development.

Under the terms of the bill, projects on the north side of the overlay would have a base height limit of 65 feet, but could climb as high as 144 feet if developers claim any of a variety of bonuses for things like stormwater management, open space, through-block connections, and mixed-income housing. Projects on the south side of the overlay, facing Interstate 76, would be limited to 100 feet, but could rise to 340 feet with bonuses.

East Callowhill Overlay | Planning Commission, Sept. 2015
East Callowhill Overlay | Planning Commission, Sept. 2015

East Callowhill Overlay | Planning Commission, Sept. 2015
East Callowhill Overlay | Planning Commission, Sept. 2015

Councilman Mark Squilla introduced a preliminary version of the overlay in June. Squilla said at the time that the bill was intended to bring more density to the area. City planner Ian Litwin said on Tuesday that the measure is also meant to break up the blocks in the area and create a better pedestrian environment, inviting people to walk between Old City and Northern Liberties. Years ago, when the area was industrializing, the city struck Noble Street between 2nd and 6th from the plan. Litwin said the city wasn’t planning to rebuild the street, but the overlay would prohibit any new development in the former right-of-way.

Conversations about rezoning the neighborhood began around the time that Destination Maternity announced it would vacate its massive warehouse headquarters at 5th and Spring Garden streets last spring. Recently, developers have proposed converting the former Destination Maternity site, a 7.5-acre property, into a “creative office space,” with a number of tenants. (The proposal is called SoNo, as in Southern Northern Liberties, or, “I’m SoNot calling it that.”)

Litwin said on Tuesday that other developers surfaced after the bill was introduced, and the Planning Commission spent time over the summer working with them on amendments to the overlay. The current version includes all the same bonuses as the Central Delaware zoning overlay, plus some that are unique to East Callowhill.

On Tuesday, a planner with the Philadelphia Water Department testified in favor of the bill, saying the Water Dept. supports any efforts to incentivize stormwater management. Litwin said that virtually the entire area within the proposed overlay is impervious surfaces.

Litwin also said the area has about 1.8 million square feet of property, and could support up to 9 million square feet of development under the terms of the proposed overlay. A speculative build-out analysis prepared by the Commission, pictured below, shows one potential development pattern the overlay could encourage. See the Commission’s full presentation here.


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