Zoning Commission takes an ax to city’s district system

April 14, 2010

By Thomas J. Walsh
For PlanPhilly

The Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission took another major step forward Wednesday with the release of its Module 2, “Districts and Uses,” with an overview presented at the commission’s monthly meeting by Kirk Bishop, a consultant from the firm Duncan Associates.

At least 25 commissioners were present, along with 40 to 50 citizens looking on from the packed room atop the One Parkway building.


In many senses, people who are the toughest audience are the ones who are most familiar with the old code, Bishop said. He outlined the consolidation; elimination and changes to the city’s zoning districts, along with a few instances of the creation of new districts. A new use classification system and use regulations were also explained, and the commissioners were urged to pore over the 148-page draft of Module 2 and to give individual feedback.

Bishop and his partners with the consulting team have winnowed the 94 existing zoning classifications down to 45, inclusive of three new classifications and the elimination of six zoning districts.

For example, the city’s industrial zoning districts have been reclassified, including new districts known as “industrial mixed-use” and “industrial, transportation and utilities.” Eliminated from the list is the classification “food distribution center.”

Regarding the packed agenda, this is probably typical and what you can expect going forward, Acting Deputy Mayor and Planning Commission Executive Director Alan Greenberger told the commissioners.

The members of the public attending the meeting was “noticeably bigger” than normal, Greenberger said. “That tells us that the work this commission is doing is getting noticed – it’s getting into the hard part.”

The “Philadelphia 2035” comprehensive plan is also entering into a fairly intense phase, he said, having to do with “making projections about how the city might or might not grow, relative to population, relative to job base, relative to the commitment to sustainability. We started to develop some diagrammatic and analytic tools to help us figure out what that means.”

Greenberger and ZCC Executive Director Eva Gladstein were also due to testify at a City Council hearing Wednesday afternoon. Greenberger said that he’d be requesting an extension of the June 30, 2010 deadline for the new zoning code.

“While we plan to present the final draft of the code this fall, we will be asking Council for a one-year extension,” he said. “It just seems like the right thing to do, just in case there are any unforeseen circumstances.”

Don Elliott, senior consultant with Clarion Associates, followed up on Module 1 (“Administration and Procedures”) presentations from earlier this year.

A new survey was posted to the ZCC web site today, seeking opinions on Module 2.

The ZCC’s fourth round of civic engagement will focus on new language in the code regarding zoning districts and uses. Community meetings will be taking place from April 28th through May 5th.

For a report from the American Planning Association conference in New Orleans last weekend about the session highlighting the zoning reform efforts of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in which Gladstein participated, click here

The next ZCC meeting is scheduled for May 12.


Contact the reporter at thomaswalsh1@gmail.com.

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