Politicking the Zoning Code

Some of Philadelphia’s best-known development and planning organizations are worried about the minority report proposed by Councilmen Bill Green and Brian J. O’Neill, and passed by nine of the city’s Zoning Code Commissioners on Wednesday.

According to email exchanges obtained by PlanPhilly, the amendment rapidly became a political issue in the building, design, and planning community, including for organizations such as the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia (BIA), the Next Great City coalition, and the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations.

In text introduced by the BIA, emails to members of these organizations have emphasized using Tuesday’s primary election to pressure Green. “We need to communicate to him before May 17th that we are counting on him to achieve, not delay, zoning reform,” the emails read.

According to Green, these organizations are reacting not to the ZCC’s minority, but to what he said was an erroneous May 11 Philadelphia Inquirer story.

“The statement in the article,” Green said, “was that I was trying to prevent this from happening. Exactly the opposite was true. I was trying to send something to council that would put in place the zoning code.”

The substance of the minority report passed on Wednesday is much the same as the majority report—same code, same manual. But without additional planning resources, Green’s amendment could delay* the effective date of the code in much of the city. The majority report calls for the new zoning code to take effect 180 days after passing City Council. The amendment calls for each planning district to be remapped, then the new code will roll out in each planning district after that district’s respective zoning map becomes law. That remapping process, being executed through the Phila2035 plan, starts this fall, but will not be completed for all districts until 2016, if the Planning Commission can stick to the schedule. 

“I think that the path for majority report to get approved on Council is for the Planning Commision to have maps that show Council what the impact is on the ground rather than the 10,000 or 30,000 foot level,” Green said.

While some of the organizations’ calls to action did refer to the Inquirer report, some planners, developers and activists still tell PlanPhilly that they want to see City Council make the new code effective as quickly as possible.

“I think the mapping is a concern that most councilpeople would have,” said David Perlman, president of BIA. “I understand the concern about the mapping. But the city needs a new zoning code, and the BIA is in support of the zoning code. We would like to have no hiccups getting it approved, and to make any corrections as we go through that we need some adjustment.”

Bryan Collins of Next Great City echoed the desire for a quick move by City Council.

“If it doesn’t get passed through with this council, we’ll be facing an entirely new group of council members, and it will probably take them a considerably longer time to deal with this,” Collins said.

Zoning Code Commissioner Emanuel Kelly said a delay could create a lack of focus and will to see the project through.

“That mapping is about a five-year process. You lose community focus. In five years people won’t even know what the code changes were about. That is the wrong process from my perspective,” Kelly said.

Green said remapping could be accelerated if more resources were directed to the Planning Commission, and insisted that those concerned about the timeline for implementing the code are jumping the gun.

“The problem is that people are focused on the wrong thing,” Green said. “This is stage two of a four stage process. What should be celebrated is that stage one of this four-stage process of reforming the zoning code in the city of Philadelphia is completed. On Wednesday, the Zoning Code Commission sent to Council a report, which we will now investigate and comment on. At this stage, it has nothing to do with the ultimate implementation. It has to do with hopefully continued, collaborative effort to reform our zoning code,” Green said.

*Correction: The original version of this story read, “Green proposed delaying the effective date of the code.” Neither Green nor the amendment propose delaying the effective date. The reporter regrets the error. 


Contact the reporter at ngilewicz@planphilly.com

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