Wissahickon looks to rezone neighborhood to boost preservation efforts

(John Corrigan/for NewsWorks)

(John Corrigan/for NewsWorks)

The Wissahickon neighborhood zoning remapping proposal was revealed on Thursday in front of 50 residents inside the Wissahickon Presbyterian Church. Representatives of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission explained that they are targeting the area surrounded by Hermit Street, Ridge Avenue, Henry Avenue and Wissahickon Creek.

“This all came out of an initial plan to implement an NCO, an overlay to create certain standards in Wissahickon based upon what’s been done in Central Roxborough,” said Jon Miller, President of the Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association.

NCOs — Neighborhood Conservation Overlays — conserve the character of natural and built features in established older neighborhoods, affecting new construction and façade renovations. Before implementing the NCO, the area needs to be remapped for updated zoning.

That’s where city planners Matt Wysong and Andrew Meloney step in.

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“It’s a common problem in Philadelphia,” Meloney said. “People see too much density in their neighborhood.”

“We’re looking for single-family zones which can increase home ownership and fix parking issues,” Wysong added.

Miller said the most common request in the neighborhood is for a variance to change a home zoned for single family use into a multi-family home. The change allows the owner to rent to twice as many tenants, but that usually leads to twice as many parking spaces being occupied.

The goals of the proposal include preserving the character of Wissahickon by matching zoning to existing lot sizes and density. Wysong plans to utilize residential single-family attached zoning to prohibit front garages and require contextual setbacks and heights on new construction. Such zoning requires a minimum lot width of 16 ft., lot area of 1,440 sq. ft., and maximum height of 38 ft.

Another goal is to encourage new commercial uses for Rochelle Avenue by rezoning areas intended for small-scale, low-impact, neighborhood-serving commercial uses to that which accommodates a wider range and size of commercial uses such as coffee shops, bars and restaurants.

Jeff Allegretti, founder of affordable housing project management company Innova Services, said he’s been waiting 30 years for the meeting.

“I’ve spent so many days of my life before the zoning board trying to incrementally control the uses of the neighborhood,” Allegretti said. “This is really the way it should be done: gathering smart planners and people in the community.”

The Zoning Board of Adjustment requires that applicants for zoning variances get support from the Registered Community Organization for the neighborhood before granting a variance. Now that WICA has heard the feelings of the community, it will vote on whether or not to pursue the remapping changes. After the vote is counted, WICA will send a letter stating its position to the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Josh Cohen, spokesman for 4th District City Councilman Curtis Jones, was on hand to gauge public reaction and explain how the proposal becomes reality.

“The councilman believes there is a need to change the zoning in this neighborhood as we’ve already done with other neighborhoods,” Cohen said.

Once the bill is written, the councilman will present it to the Rules Committee, chaired by Councilman William Greenlee.

Residents will have opportunities to speak in front of the Rules Committee, the Planning Commission, and if the bill makes it to final passage, they can speak on the floor of City Council.

Cohen said Mayor Jim Kenney can wait for up to two council sessions to take action on a bill once it passes.

Although the majority of residents voted to pass the proposal, about five people requested more time to look it over, prompting Miller to schedule another meeting.

For more information on the proposal, residents are invited to attend WICA’s monthly meeting on March 9 inside Northern Children’s Services at 7 p.m.

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