Planners like the concept of flashier signs on Market Street East, but say the legislation needs work

The Philadelphia Planning Commission Tuesday voted to oppose a legislative proposal that would allow animated billboards and building wraps on a portion of East Market Street.

The area has lagged behind other parts of the city for decades, and First District Councilman Frank DiCicco hopes that allowing this type of advertising will help revive a now-dead area, both by making it glitzier and through fees owners of the signs would pay, which would be directed toward rehabbing shabby or underused buildings.

Planners like the idea in general. It’s the specifics that worry them. “We have issues, but we support the concept of it,” said Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development Alan Greenberger.

“We didn’t like this bill when we first saw it, and we still don’t like it,” said city planner Martin Gregorski during his presentation.

While the goal of the bill – the current version of which was introduced by DiCicco and Councilman James Kenney last fall – is to pep up Market Street between 7th and 13th Streets, Gregorski said it creates a district that “could just be plugged in elsewhere too easily.” He said that many of the definitions within the bill are too “muddy” for planners’ comfort, and so almost any sign could be considered a large format sign.

The bill sets out to keep the digital signs and wraps from historic buildings, Gregorski said, but planners worry it wouldn’t do that as it is now written. It allows an exception for buildings that have had large format signs in the past, he said, and with that term’s broad definition, an argument could be made that most historic buildings have had them.

The city’s legal department has just completed a review of the bill and issued recommended revisions, Gregorski said. But while these revisions address legal issues, they leave planning issues unaddressed, he said. Gregorski has a meeting with legal and DiCicco’s office to go over things Wednesday.

Meanwhile, there is a Rules Committee hearing on the current version of the bill scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 22. “We asked the Councilman to postpone it, but he wanted to keep the discussion moving forward,” Planning Commission Executive Director Gary Jastrzab said after the meeting.

DiCicco originally proposed a different bill with similar goals more than a year ago. He has always said he is willing to work on the language.

Gregorski and Jastrzab said they expect the bill will either be amended or a new bill will be drafted. Gregorski said that could possibly be done by Tuesday’s hearing and an amendment could be introduced.

But in case the hearing is held on the current version of the bill, staff recommend the commission vote against it.

Whether there is an amendment or a totally new bill, it will come back before the Planning Commission, Jastrzab said.

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