ZCC members transformed into change agents

May 12, 2010

By Matt Golas
For PlanPhilly

The Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission, which was recently granted a one-year extension by City Council to produce a new Zoning Code, wasted little time Wednesday in moving toward that goal.

Following ZCC Chairman Alan Greenberger’s opening remarks stressing that despite the deadline extension through 2011, “our intention is to deliver a code to council in the fall,” Don Elliott, senior consultant with Clarion Associates, detailed a plethora of proposed revisions to the public draft of Module 1 (“Administration and Procedures”).

The highlights included changes in language regarding:

Applications: Removing language specifying required pre‐application meetings with Licenses & Inspections but maintaining language for early public input meetings between the applicant and the community. L&I is now listed as the reviewer for major and minor amendments to plans of development. This responsibility should be shifted to the Planning Commission.

Public notice: Require adequate and clear posting of signs. Require re‐posting of signs for continued hearings. Extend the time period for sign posting from 12 days to 21 calendar days. Require the applicant’s name to be listed on notices, and web notice for zoning applications. And confirm notice requirements with Historical Commission.

Civic design review: Replace the triggers for civic design review with new triggers under discussion by the PCPC and ZCC and clarify that more detailed criteria for civic design review will appear in the Administrative Manual.

NCO’s: Simplify procedures for creating neighborhood conservation overlay districts.

Nonconforming uses: State in the code that proof of a prior permit showing the nonconformity, or other documentation acceptable to L&I, is required. The burden of proof shall be on the applicant. There are situations where an application for a permitted use or conditional use was filed, but that use was never instituted. If there is acceptable documentation that the use was never instituted, L&I still permits the prior nonconforming use so long as that use has been discontinued for less than 3 years. Revise text to reflect this practice. 

Public feedback on Module 2

ZCC Executive Director Eva Gladstein said public input on Module 2 (specifically key changes to districts and uses) had been strong and generally positive. Elements of this module, described as the backbone of the code, that received the greatest amount of feedback were Public Notice and Meetings, the Neighborhood Commercial Corridor Overlay District, and Use Categories and Accessory Dwellings.

Owen Franklin of Portfolio Associates said the feedback came from roughly 300 participants through workshops, surveys, written testimony and ongoing communication. There were four rounds of civic engagement that produced 11 key changes to the draft. In order of priority from highest to lowest, the key themes for each were:

Public Notice and Meetings
The thresholds triggering public notice, meetings and Civic Design Review are too high. Applicants will design projects with the highest dimension that are possible without exceeding thresholds.

Neighborhood Commercial Corridor Overlay
Consolidation risks the creation of a “template” neighborhood commercial corridor. While the code specifies that unique controls that cannot be consolidated will be retained, it is still possible that the standardized controls will, over time, provide for generic neighborhood centers.

Use Categories
This change empowers staff at L&I with more responsibilities in interpretation and judgment. L&I staff are potentially unprepared for this responsibility. Training of L&I staff should be conducted to ensure that use interpretations are appropriate and consistent.

Industrial Mixed Use District
The definition of “low impact industrial use” requires specification.

Wissahickon Watershed Overlay District
Public comments were generally positive about this key change and surrounded the need to find additional means of preserving natural resources through the zoning code.

Urban Agriculture
The code should provide greater accomodations for home gardeners in low density areas to enable them to raise a small number of livestock.

Transit Oriented Development Overlay District
Many, if not all, areas in Philadelphia could be potential candidates for TOD. Criteria are needed to ensure that TOD areas are properly located.

Accessory Dwellings
The regulations are too strict. Square footage requirements based on a ratio of existing space would allow smaller accesory dwelling units to be developed in smaller buildings. Accessory dwelling units should be allowed in more housing types, such as twins and rowhomes and over garages. The parking requirement should be removed to prevent unwanted curb cuts.

Daycare Use Regulations
This was a high priority issue only in the Holy Family University workshops, where several discussions focused on how potential impacts of daycare may be mitigated.

Renewable Energy Production
Participants offered primarily positive comments on this key change

Center City Overlay District
Participants offered primarily positive comments on this key change.

It should be noted that all the public feedback in not in. Craig Schelter, executive director of Development Workshop Inc., has brought together a team of developers, real estate attorneys and former city planners to conduct a forensic audit of the consultants’ recent assessment of the existing code. Schelter is putting the finishing touches on a draft that the group will present to the ZCC.

Notes: Public meetings are being scheduled concerning the “Philadelphia 2035” comprehensive plan. The first meeting is May 27 at PAFA – Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Not since 1960 has the city undertaken an effort to create a master plan for all of Philadelphia. Join the Planninng Commission for an engaging evening at one of our four public meetings, each held at a landmark location. The meetings will be hands-on with participants working with their neighbors to envision the Philadelphia of 2035. Other meetings are June 1 at the Please Touch Museum from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm; Esperanza College, Monday, June 7 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm; and Knowlton Mansion, Tuesday, June 8 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm. You can also find more information on the meeting locations and RSVP, though this not necessary, on the PCPC facebook page, www.facebook.com/Phila2035


Community Meetings | The ZCC has just completed its fourth round of community meetings focused on 11 key changes proposed to zoning districts and uses.  Watch this video of Executive Director Eva Gladstein introducing these proposals.  http://vimeo.com/11564611
Public Draft of Module 2 – Zoning Districts and Uses | The ZCC released the draft second module of the new code at the April 14th, 2010 ZCC meeting. Read Module 2 – Zoning Districts and Uses here.
Draft Change Memo to Module 1 | Review the ZCC’s working draft Change Memo to Module 1. The ZCC will continue to update this document as it receives more input and feedback in the coming months.
Public Draft of Module 1 – Administration and Procedures | The ZCC released the draft first module of the new code at the ZCC meeting that took place on February 17, 2010.  Read Module 1.  
Working Draft of the Definitions Chapter |
Use this document as a resource as you review Modules 1 and 2.  The definitions will continue to be updated as each module is produced.
The next ZCC meeting is scheduled for June 9.
Contact the reporter at mgolas@design.upenn.edu


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