Plans to allow more density in Center City hit a roadblock

A bill meant to increase residential and commercial and density in Center City appears to be stalled after getting initial approval from a City Council committee last week. The Planning Commission voted against the bill on Tuesday, and Councilman Mark Squilla’s office said on Wednesday that he won’t call for a vote on the bill this spring.

A majority of Commission members agreed there should be more discussions between Squilla’s office, neighborhood civic associations, and the Building Industry Association, which initially asked for a much more expansive version of the bill to be introduced last June.

In its amended version, approved by the Committee on Rules last week, the bill permits taller construction on lots zoned for neighborhood commercial use which have frontage on three streets, reduces the minimum lot-size requirements in certain residential districts, and raises the maximum floor area ratio in the most permissive commercial zones. Some of the changes mimic the density bonuses allowed in Transit Oriented Development (TOD) districts, which have yet to be added to the city’s zoning maps.

At the Commission hearing, it didn’t seem to be the changes themselves that worried neighbors, necessarily. It was that they didn’t know what was in the bill until recently, and expected to have more time to review it.

Members of the Society Hill Civic Association, including Lorna Katz Lawson and Robert Kramer, said they had expected to have more meetings with Squilla and the BIA. Society Hill residents are worried that the bill would permit a by-right, hyper-dense redevelopment of the property on 5th Street that currently houses a Super Fresh grocery store. (It’s not clear that the bill would affect that property; Planning Commission staff members weren’t immediately available to comment on Wednesday.)

Members of Logan Square Neighborhood Association and the Crosstown Coalition were also planning on more conversations about the bill, according to Commission Chairman Alan Greenberger. But Anne Fadullon, president of the BIA, said she’d reached out to civic groups many times, and thought the bill was in a shape that would make everyone happy.

Not yet, it seems.

See the conversation in the video below.

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