Planning Commission opposes bid to limit home occupations, supports waiving fees for daycares

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission voted on Tuesday to oppose a bill introduced by Councilman Brian O’Neill that would restrict business activity in certain residential areas. Since the bill already had a committee hearing, and the Planning Commission’s recommendations are advisory, the bill could be adopted by the full City Council on Thursday.

The bill would prohibit uses in the “Home Business, General” category in all residential, single-family housing districts and some multi-family districts. That category is defined as follows: “A home occupation, other than professional home businesses, where nonresident partners, employees, or customers visit the premises to engage in the occupation. Up to three persons (including one permitted employee) who are not residents of the dwelling unit in which the home business is conducted may be present on the premises at any one time in connection with the home business.”

Currently, those uses are allowed in common rowhouse districts by special exception. If the bill is adopted, they will only be allowed by variance, which is a tougher sell at the zoning board.

After a compromise worked out between Councilman O’Neill and the Planning Commission staff, the bill will allow certain services in the impacted districts, things like home tutoring and piano lessons.

Still, that compromise didn’t make the proposal palatable to the Planning Commission.

“It seems to me that this is designed to solve a particular problem,” said Commissioner Nancy Rogo-Trainer, “and I’m not sure exactly what problem it’s designed to solve.”

The Commission also voted on Tuesday to recommend a bill introduced by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown that removes the zoning application fees for new day care centers. An earlier bill from Councilman O’Neill limits the areas where new day care centers can be placed.

Commissioner Manny Citron said he was concerned about setting a precedent by creating a “fee carve-out” for an entire industry. Commissioner Nilda Ruiz pointed out that day care centers operate on very thin profit margins, and the bill would help new providers to enter the market. In the end, Citron abstained while the Commission approved the measure.

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