February 17, 2010
By Thomas J. Walsh
A draft of the Zoning Code Commission’s first major chapter is now in the hands of commissioners, and “Module 1 – Administration and Procedures” was the main discussion at Wednesday morning’s monthly meeting of the agency.
The ZCC meeting had been postponed because of last week’s snowstorm.
“You’re on track and it’s nice to see it moving smoothly,” said Don Elliott, senior consultant for the Denver-based Clarion Associates.
The entire 87-page draft document has been posted to the ZCC’s Web site, and can been seen and downloaded here.
One portion of the module’s “Common Procedures and Requirements” chapter is still to come. Regarding “pre-Applications and neighborhood meetings,” the ZCC will incorporate information from a report by the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, about a series of work sessions it convened in January with neighborhood organizations and developers. Those meetings discussed and identified “whether the consultant recommendation for a neighborhood meeting requirement should be included in the new Zoning Code, and if so, in what form.”
“The Zoning Code Commission understands that recommendations regarding neighborhood meetings have raised significant concerns on the part of many stakeholders,” the draft states. “The ZCC will revisit this issue after receiving and discussing the report of these workshops.”
The AIA/Penn report is due Thursday (Feb. 18). Earlier summaries can be seen here.
Meetings / hearings
There was some discussion during the public comment period of the meeting about the public’s ability to “cross-examine” at meetings of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, as opposed to merely offering testimony.
Attorney Paul Boni, speaking as a Society Hill Civic delegate for the Neighborhoods Matter coalition of city community organizations, said that the ZCC’s Module 1 should include the issue of cross-examination, saying it is not sufficient to grant just a few minutes to the public for what could be major decisions on, say, variances.
Zoning Code Commissioner Peter Kelsen, a land use attorney and chair of the ZCC’s Work Plan Committee, said his committee would be addressing that in the coming weeks, among other related issues.
So why not simply write that into the code in the meantime, Boni asked.
Elliott (who is also a lawyer) responded by saying that most cities’ codes don’t spell that out, because the time and place for cross-examination is during the appeal of a granted variance request.
“Most codes don’t get into who can offer testimony,” Elliott said. “I would urge you not to as well.”
Commissioner Greg Pastore said that nonetheless, there should be some clarity as to whether a non-lawyer can cross-examine, in whatever the setting.
Representatives of other city organizations told the commissioners they had other issues regarding public input. One said that not enough of the decision-making language encompassed in Module 1 called for notice on the Internet.
Another sought clarification of the use of the terms “public meeting” versus “public “hearing.” The latter includes official transcripts and confers certain rights. Elliott said that “meetings” are about “pre-requirements” insofar as the zoning code is concerned, and that the code is “not intended to narrow or broaden” the rights citizens have for proper hearings.
All of the comments, indeed the entire Module, is still in draft form, Kelsen emphasized. He encouraged each commissioner to return with three to five issues for further “drill-down” discussions and clarifications.
“There’s a wealth of material and we want to make sure we review it carefully,” said Commissioner Andy Toy, of the ZCC’s Civic Engagement Committee, which will be launching its third round of public meetings on Feb. 23 (a full schedule will be posted soon to the ZoningMatters.org Web site).