ZCC gives PCPC a zoning code walk-through

The Zoning Code Commission – which is now entering its stretch drive to complete the first code re-write in Philadelphia in half a century – presented the key elements of its work to the City’s Planning Commission Tuesday afternoon and the reception was polite and less exuberant than what will surely come courtesy of the next three audiences.

Starting in late September, the task will switch from the arduous work of detailed module creation and rewrite to the challenge of selling the new code to special interest groups, city council and the public at large.

It should be noted that the 31-person strong commission and its consultants have met 35 times (that’s not counting a bunch of civic engagement and ZCC working group meetings) over the past two years to analyze, reform and modernize the antiquated code. Throughout 2010, the ZCC has been working on completing draft recommendations for the new code and drafts have been made public. This November the proposed new code will be presented to City Council, which will accept or reject it in its entirety. An accepted code rewrite will usher in a city-wide zoning remapping.

The entire draft of the code is available online at ZoningMatters.org. Passages of the code have been revised multiple times in response to input from interested groups, but a number of stakeholder groups still have questions and concerns about the proposed code. Many of Philadelphia’s private, public, civic, and non-profit organizations have also taken a look at the proposed code and have submitted comments and recommendations to the commission.

PlanPhilly has compiled these comments and recommendations. We encourage you to read the submissions that are posted in this community forum to learn more about the proposed changes to the zoning code.

The time is now for working out final kinks. A full house of planning commisioners and six ZCC members (Andy Toy, Greg Pastore, Brian O’Neill, Peter Kelsen, Eva Gladsein and Alan Greenberger) attended Tuesday’s meeting. Lead ZCC consultant Don Elliott walked the gathering through the prime goals of the zoning code redo: making zoning consistent and understandable; creating a future where construction is more predictable; protecting the neighborhood fabric; and involving the public in the process. The PCPC will see a final draft of the code rewrite Sept. 21. Elliott said the civic engagement here around the code rewrite was more energized than in any other municipality he has served.

He also noted that the No. 1 complaint among citizens in Philly was with the way the city administrates zoning.

“Three-plus years of working a steady and aggressive pace on this new code has showed we are more committed and more persistent than other cities,” said Greenberger. “A civic agreement that comes out of this means that there is an unwritten agreement that says one of the reasons this code is not going to be tinkered with is because we have worked so hard on it. The commission’s goal to hold that line. Some rules we made may not pan out but by and large, it’s a good and smart document for city and we need to defend it.”

That moment is at hand.

“We have written to [ZCC Chair Eva Gladstein] about trying to meet with them about a couple of concerns,” Sam Little, president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and a representative of the Crosstown Coalition, or “Neighborhoods Matter” group of civic associations, told PlanPhilly last week. “One of them is the lack of clarity and difficulty with so many things changing, knowing how it all fits together. “The second is knowing how the zoning appeal process is going to fit in with the planning process, particularly as we get to remapping all the neighborhoods.”

Little said the Crosstown Coalition met with the ZCC and Gladstein “very satisfactorily” earlier this year about issues regarding “standing” (the ability of a given group to officially weigh in on a municipal matter) and stressed that he’s been impressed with their ability to address issues quickly. Little said he hopes to meet by the end of September. Gladstein said Tuesday that meeting will happen.

In the meantime, he and others are worried about the November date the ZCC is pointing at for its seminal presentation to City Council.

“It’s going to be a very demanding and exciting,” said George Claflen, principal of Claflen Associates, Architects & Planners, which served as an urban design consultant for the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (Claflen himself also served on PlanPhilly’s first advisory board, a term that expires this month). “There’s a lot to be done.”

AIA Philadelphia comments on the new code

Public Voice for Public Space comments on new code

Delaware Valley Green Building Council comments on new code

Next Great City comments on new code

“I think there’s a lot still to go,” Little said. “Our coalition has a concern about the overall clarity – that all neighborhoods need to have sort of an even playing field in terms of future growth and development. Center City’s civic associations have a little bit of a head start in terms of people being more affluent and there may be more experienced professionals there. We want the code to more useful and understandable to all neighborhoods.”

Prior to an informational presentation to City Council, civic engagement meetings at 10 district council locations will follow in September and early October. The ZCC will also meet twice in October with the goal to get a final code rewrite in front of City Council by Nov. 10 with the hope of getting the code into law by 2011. According to Gladstein, the council district specific meetings will begin the week of September 20th and run through the week of November 8th – with some exceptions:  
– ZCC community meetings are not scheduling the last week of October or first week in November, to avoid conflicts w/ Phila2035.  
– ZCC is also not scheduling council district specific meetings on Nov. 8th to avoid a conflict with Green2015.  
– All but two of the meetings will take place from 6 to 8 p.m.; one will be a weekday morning and one will be a Saturday morning.
– The meetings will take the form of an “open house” rather than breaking down into small group discussions.  


Thomas J. Walsh contributed to this report.

Contact the reporter at mgolas@planphilly.com

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