Planning Commission approves down-zoning in North Philadelphia

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission recommended approval of three bills on Tuesday that would implement portions of the Lower North District Plan, one of 18 neighborhood plans being undertaken as part of the Philadelphia2035 citywide remapping.

The three bills were introduced by 5th District Councilman Darrell Clarke, and they impact the area bounded roughly by Cecil B. Moore Avenue, Lehigh Avenue, Broad Street, Ridge Avenue, and Glenwood Avenue. (These boundaries are very rough; for specific boundaries, download the zoning maps here, here, and here.)

Most significantly, all three bills would rezone large swaths of the area from multifamily residential use to single-family residential use. Particularly in the blocks further west of Broad Street, the bills down-zone properties to prevent further conversions to multi-unit residences. The recommendations were based on the district planning process, and were a response in part to an increase in student housing built over the last decade.

City planner David Fecteau, who presented the bill, said that the Commission had fielded some concerns that down-zoning the area would stifle development. He said that was unlikely, however. Even with the down-zoning, Fecteau said, there is enough vacant land in the impacted area to handle development, at the current rate, for the next 20 years.

Other aspects of the bills would allow corner commercial properties an expanded array of uses, change the classifications on commercially zoned properties that are used for other purposes, and rezone traditional industrial properties to Industrial/Commercial Mixed-Use (ICMX) zoning.

Judith Robinson, a Strawberry Mansion resident who was involved during the Lower North planning, said that moving to insulate single-family blocks from multi-unit student housing was happening “a day late and a dollar short.” She also said that community members should have had more time to weigh in on the specific changes made in the bills. (One of the bills went before City Council’s Rules Committee and was approved last week; the other two will be subject to a committee hearing that hasn’t been scheduled yet.)

Robinson also said that a number of zoning hearings concerning North Philadelphia are coming up, and she wishes the Planning Commission staff would recommend disapproval of zoning variances more often.

Aissia Richardson, a leader in the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation, emphasized the need for there to be time for community input in all aspects of the planning and remapping. Dave Fecteau said that Council President Clarke’s office had decided to move the bills quickly because Clarke is receiving a glut of phone calls about problems with Temple students in the area.

Commissioner Beth Miller encouraged residents to attend a meeting of her group, Community Design Collaborative, next month for details on a design charette concerning closed school buildings in the area. The presentation and panel discussion will be held Friday, November 14th, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., at the Center for Architecture at 1218 Arch Street.

After the testimony, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of all three zoning bills.

The Commission also voted in support of four corrective rezoning bills. Those bills would impact:

  • Two small areas of Society Hill, including the Superfresh grocery store and state liquor store on South 5th Street;

  • A parcel at Oregon Avenue, Front Street, and the Delaware Expressway;

  • A property at Cedar and Venango streets in Port Richmond;

  • And a church property at Rising Sun Avenue and Tabor Road in Olney.

The Commission asked for another month to review another set of remapping bills introduced in City Council last week.

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