By Matt Golas
Alan Greenberger, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Commerce, and Eva Gladstein, Zoning Code Commission Director, started Wednesday’s ZCC meeting off with words that were no surprise to the 23 members present for the group’s 26th meeting.
The work of moving from a draft of the new zoning code to a finished product is intensifying. The most critical issue the ZCC faces is creating a balance between competing interests that will always be part of the built environment in Philadelphia: of-right projects for developers and community review of and interaction with those projects.
Those thoughts kicked off a two-hour meeting that began in earnest with ZCC and Planning Commission member Natalia Olson Urtecho introducing the work of the ZCC’s Civic Engagement Committee, which used public hearings, community workshops, an online survey that garnered 675 participants, and written testimony to distill down key changes and recommendations that would best balance the developers’ needs with community input.
Owen Franklin, of consultant group Portfolio Associates, told the assembled that the Civic Engagement Committee findings surfaced two clear public priorities: what is most important in the code, and what most improves the code. Franklin said while the report was not a quantitative analysis, it does indicate there was more positive support for the draft zoning code than negative perception of its recommendations.
ZCC member and developer John Westrum said the issues are really the same for developers and community groups and the solution to anxiety over the planning and development process that has built up for decades here is simply making that process transparent and predictable for all parties.
ZCC Work Plan Committee chair Peter Kelsen and Kirk Bishop of Clarion/Duncan, the consultants writing the new code, introduced the Change Memo, which represents interaction with Planning Commission members, ZCC members, representatives from Licenses & Inspection, the City Law Department and the public that resulted in about five pages of revisions to the 100-page zoning draft report made public in September.
The unanimous approval of the Change Memo by the ZCC at the close of Wednesday morning’s meeting was instrumental in enabling consultants Clarion/Duncan to proceed apace in working up a final draft of Module 1 of the new zoning code. Module 1 covers code administration and procedures.
Attorney and ZCC member Richard DeMarco pointed out that one sticky issue that didn’t seem to be addressed in the Change Memo was the prescribed treatment of the many properties that are non-conforming to the new code but were granted that status through variances. He pointed out that L&I will probably not have permit information for those properties and the ZCC will need to prepare itself to address very old non-conforming uses.
City Council member Bill Green noted that Module 2, which will be next up after Module 1 is completed, has to do with industrial land. He suggested a ZCC work group be formed before March to reach out to all the industrial land stakeholders in order to get a concensus on how much industrial land Philadelphia needs. Green feels everyone with industrial land holdings will want mixed-use zoning status. This prompted Greenberger to refer to the PIDC Industrial Land Use study as a starting point for answering the question: What is industrial land in Philadelphia?
Greenberger also said he hopes there is a way to get past the idea that a discussion about a project must come with the hammer of either approval or denial of that project. He noted that an exchange of ideas simply about the project, without prejudice, an open discussion, might actually benefit the project and seems very grown up, even if the project is by-right.
A new neighborhood effort, an ad hoc bundling of community groups calling itself the Crosstown Coalition, offered to assist the ZCC in its outreach efforts. The group includes nine civic associations: East Passyunk NA, South of South Street NA, Center City Residents’ Assoc., Logan Square Neighborhood Assoc, Old City Civic Assoc., Society Hill Civic Assoc., Washington Square West Civic Assoc., Northern Liberties NA, and South Broad Street NA.
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