ZCC looks forward to fall hearings, Council action on the draft code

It’s midsummer. City Council is on recess, and so is the Zoning Code Commission. With no zoning meetings to attend, we here at PlanPhilly started to wonder: what is everybody doing? So in pursuit of that simple question, we took a few minutes to catch up with ZCC director Eva Gladstein. And the answer? In a word: preparing.

Since their last meeting in June, Gladstein said, the commission has been working on regulations to accompany the new zoning code, improvements to the Zoning Administrative Manual, and a handful of documents aimed at engaging the public further in the zoning reform process.

“We’re continuing to do education to various constituents, as well as to members of Council,” Gladstein said.

The commission’s educational efforts include a document recently posted on zoningmatters.org entitled “The Role of the Community in the Draft New Zoning Code,” and a Property Research Form, which allows citizens to preview changes to specific properties under the new code. The ZCC plans to collect the public’s property research requests and synthesize them into a document showing some of the concrete differences that the new code will bring about.

In addition, the commission has met over the summer with Council members and their staff, as well as various community groups, to answer questions. In most of those meetings, the issues that stakeholders were concerned about were already on the ZCC’s radar. Some district Council members raised concerns specific to their districts, but Gladstein said that on the whole the ZCC was already on top of the issues that Council members had misgivings about.

“I would not say that there were big surprises,” she said.

Which bodes well for the reform process going forward. At the ZCC’s last presentation before Council, in June, several groups said they wanted more time to review the commission’s preliminary report and give feedback. The commission has requested that that feedback be submitted by August 19th. Gladstein said that deadline will give the commission enough time to process suggestions and incorporate them into their next presentation to Council.

Gladstein expects the ZCC to appear before Council, whose next session begins Sept. 8, prior to the next meeting of the ZCC, on Sept. 14. That meeting with Council, as well as the re-opening of hearings on the zoning proposals, will influence the ZCC’s fall agenda.

“The most important thing for us,” Gladstein said, “is being able to digest what we hear from the public at Council meetings, and what we hear from Council members.”

She also pointed out, however, that the ZCC is now on Council’s schedule. The charter amendment which created the commission says that Council has 45 days from the time the ZCC submits its preliminary report to convene public hearings on the proposals. The preliminary report was sent to council in May, and Council opened hearings in June, before adjourning for summer recess. The charter does not mandate how long hearings are to go on, however–only that Council must make recommendations to the commission within thirty days of the close of hearings. So this stage in the zoning reform process is under no time constraints. Council could conceivably keep the hearings open for another year. Nobody believes that’s going to happen, but no schedule will be triggered until after Council decides to close hearings and vote on the draft proposals.

“The ZCC can’t take another official step until after the hearings close,” Gladstein said.

Gladstein reiterated that she hopes Council closes hearings and votes on the ZCC’s proposals before the end of 2011, but she wasn’t willing to guess about when the next steps might be taken.

“Council has a lot of competing priorities,” she said, “so they have to sort through it.”

In the meantime, the ZCC will be working on reforming sign controls. The commission decided early on to treat sign controls separately from the rest of the zoning code, partially because the controls are so complex, and they wanted to reform the code in as timely a manner as was possible. Beyond that, Gladstein said, the ZCC is listening to feedback from various stakeholder groups–and preparing. She said she wants the group to be prepared to write its final report as soon as Council acts on the draft.

“We’re doing a lot of groundwork so we can be ready,” she said, “but we can’t do that on our own.” 

Contact the reporter at jaredbrey@gmail.com

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