Planning Commission considers zoning bills, broadcasts live, bids farewell

Next month, or the month after, or the month after that, Mayor-elect Jim Kenney will appoint a new group of people to serve on the City Planning Commission. Maybe he’ll retain some of the current members appointed by Mayor Michael Nutter, or maybe he’ll start over with a new group. He hasn’t really given any indication.

Nonetheless, several Commissioners treated Tuesday’s monthly meeting as though it would be their last. It was also the Commission’s first meeting to be broadcast live on Channel 64, the city’s public television station. Commissioner Joe Syrnick thanked the Commission staff and his fellow Commissioners for their work and friendship. Pat Eiding, a holdover from the previous Commission, said that he would recommend that the next mayor maintain the current group—if he’s asked. Alan Greenberger, the Commission chairman and deputy mayor for economic development, was given a standing ovation.

Kenney has indicated that he wants the Planning Commission to finish its district planning and remapping process as quickly as possible, in order to spur development across the city. On Tuesday, the Planning Commission considered eight different remapping bills.

Among the measures the Commission recommended for approval is a proposal to rezone the block bounded by 37th, 38th, Chestnut and Sansom streets for a proposed redevelopment of the Penn Newman Catholic Community Center. The project is in the conceptual phase, but would call for replacing the existing building at 3720 Chestnut Street with a mix of retail and residential uses while retaining the existing services at the site. The bill, which was introduced by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell in November, would rezone the block from RM-4, a higher-density multifamily category, to CMX-4, the second-highest-density commercial zoning category. The block is also home to St. Agatha and St. James church at the southeast corner of 38th and Chestnut. The rezoning is consistent with the district plan, according to Planning Commission staff. Blackwell has advanced only a small fraction of the remappings recommended for her district.

Another bill would pave the way for a major development at 34th and Indiana streets, near Laurel Hill cemetery. Gato Associates is planning to build a mixed-use housing complex on a half-block vacant lot, with a seven-story building and two rows of four-story condominium buildings. The developers are currently seeking financing for the project; the design is still conceptual and will have to go through Civic Design Review. RAH Civic Association, a local Registered Community Organization, is supporting the project, according to city planner Ashley Richards. The bill was introduced by Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., in November.

The Commission also supported a bill that would allow Cristo Rey High School to construct a new building on property bounded by 17th, 19th, Allegheny Avenue and Westmoreland Street in Tioga. The property is currently home to a vacant industrial building. The bill, introduced by Councilwoman Cindy Bass, would rezone the property from Industrial to Industrial/Commercial Mixed Use, which would allow the school to be built by right.

The Commission voted against a bill creating a Ridge Park Roxborough Neighborhood Conservation Overlay (NCO), even though its staff had helped neighbors create the overlay. The measure is meant to preserve some of the architectural aesthetic in the neighborhood. The Planning Commission didn’t like that an original provision banning front-loading garages had been removed from the bill. Alan Greenberger questioned whether another provision, banning synthetic stucco, went too far. He was afraid it would set a bad precedent for other neighborhoods. Despite the Commission’s disapproval, the bill was voted out of a City Council committee last week, and could be adopted this Thursday.

Other bills that were approved by the Commission on Thursday:

The Commission also approved a bill authorizing the City to transfer property on the 2700 block of Ruth Street in Kensington to the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development for future transfer. The New Kensington CDC is hoping to build 51 units of low-to-moderate income housing on the site.

For a (potentially) final hurrah, it was a busy day.

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