Waterfront zoning legislation won’t be introduced this week, but will be in time for a vote before summer break

First District Councilman Mark Squilla won’t introduce legislation for a zoning overlay meant to give teeth to the Central Delaware Master Plan at Thursday’s city council meeting, but plans to introduce it in time for council to vote on it before breaking for summer recess.

“I wanted stakeholders to see it first,” he told PlanPhilly in an email after the close of business Tuesday.

City planners, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, the Central Delaware Advocacy Group and other advocates of the master plan say it’s vitally important for the overlay legislation to be adopted before council goes on recess.

The interim overlay, designed to protect the waterfront from development that isn’t a good match with the city’s waterfront vision until both the master plan and related zoning are in place, expires on Aug. 22, when the city’s new zoning code goes into effect.

The advocates worry that if there’s no new overlay and the interim one sunsets, the waterfront would be unprotected until sometime after City Council’s return in the fall.

Due to council rules about the reading of bills, Thursday’s council meeting would have been the deadline to introduce the overlay, or any legislation, in time for council to vote before break. But Council has added an extra session, said Philadelphia City Planning Commission Executive Director Gary Jastrzab.

Before Tuesday’s 1 p.m. Commission meeting, Jastrzab said he was hopeful Squilla would introduce the legislation this week. Deputy Executive Director Eva Gladstein said all the materials had been sent to Squilla. As of last week, a proposed ordinance, crafted by planners with input from CDAG, waterfront developers and property owners, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (the quasi-city agency which oversaw drafting of the Master Plan) and Squilla, was still being worked on.

Jastrzab said that while the added city council meeting meant legislation introduced at next week’s city council meeting instead of Thursday’s could still be voted on before council breaks, he would prefer not to cut the margins that close. Especially since council is very busy with budget issues now.

(Jastrzab said the extra session was tacked on for late June. The city clerk’s office said an additional session has been added on May 31, but they have not received a request to advertise for an extra June session. That could still happen, as City Council is currently reviewing its schedule, a spokeswoman said.)

Squilla said, also by email, that he wasn’t sure if there would be another public meeting on the overlay before he introduces it, but “a copy was sent to CDAG.”

The Central Delaware Advocacy Group, which is made up of representatives from waterfront civic associations and organizations, was created to advocate for the public’s wishes for the waterfront.  As of its most recent meeting last week, CDAG still had concerns about  the latest draft of the proposed legislation.  Among them: The lack of an outright ban on non-accessory signs, including billboards; the means for granting exceptions to a 100-foot building height limit; and provisions for required waterfront access that CDAG felt wasn’t wide enough. Learn more from this earlier story.

CDAG Chairman Matt Ruben said a copy of the latest draft had been emailed to him after 5 p.m. He was emailing it to the CDAG board, and couldn’t comment on its content yet, as he hadn’t had a chance to read it.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

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