By Matt Golas
Planning Commission Executive Director Alan Greenberger opened the monthly meeting of the Zoning Code Commission by updating everyone about the planning commission stance on Fifth District Councilman Darrell Clarke’s proposed legislation that would reduce the quorum requirement for the Zoning Board of Adjustment by reducing the voting body from six people to five. Greenberger said the PCPC supports the move, which would require a charter change. That was the easy part of the two-hour session.
Application process reform is coming
The commissioners then heard a power point presentation concerning the long overdue development permitting process reform plan (it’s not quite final) from Brian Flanagan in the Deputy Mayor’s Office of Planning and Economic Development. Flanagan pointed out that Philadelphia lags behind other major cities in helping developers and homeowners navigate efficiently through our multi-layered, slow and at times redundant permitting process. Flanagan noted that the less than desirable application and permitting process was hampering increased investment and development in Philadelphia.
Flanagan referred to an application scenario that could take 1,111 days for a project to get fully vetted in the city. He said that his office looked at best practices in 33 cities in order to come up with a plan that will streamline the application experience by creating a simple, consistent and cost effective business process for issuing permits.
He said his office has met with Licenses & Inspections, the Water Department, the Streets Department, the Planning Commission, the Historical Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Art Commission to date and some corrective action has taken place.
Additional goals for the review reform include creating and publishing clear submission requirements and discouraging the submission of incomplete plans, improved communication and coordination, establishing a director of development, and an online payment method for customers.
Addressing the big issues
Peter Kelsen, who heads the ZCC’s work plan committee, laid out perhaps the most complicated and serious challenge for the committee as a whole.
Kelsen said seven key issues emanated out of sophisticated and nuanced public and private comments and feedback from many stakeholders who received the draft recommendations for a new zoning code prepared by Clarion Associates and Duncan Associates, the lead consulting teams for the effort. Kelsen said the seven topics selected were uniformly the issues of most concern to the public.
The seven key issues are: common procedures and requirements; non-conforming structures, uses and lots; design review; overlay districts; development standards, floor area bonuses; general provisions, relationship to plan documents; general provisions, interpretation; and other ideas.
The first big issue – and the committee was told not to try to fully resolve anything during Wednesday’s session but instead find ways to give the consultants a heightened level of direction – centered on how the ZCC would administer the interface between community groups, the development community and the government agencies that deal with licensing, permitting and planning. It was duly noted this would be no easy charge given the sometimes less than transparent nature of the marriage of planning and politics in Philadelphia and the distrust that exists between the often polarized development community and neighborhood associations.
During the hour-long discussion, ZCC charter member and developer John Westrum stressed the importance of nurturing ongoing dialogue between the development community and civic associations as well as making sure the remapping process is transparent, fair and predictable and gets broad buy-in from the community.
“We need a distinct playbook, a set of rules that are predictable so everyone knows what the rules are, chaos breeds chaos,” Westrum said. “This one topic seems to be the biggest item that has been brought to light because of the mutual distrust. We need transparent predictability.”
Planning Commission staffer Laura Spina offered the ZCC members mapping information pertaining to community groups throughout the city that could be helpful as the ZCC orchestrates collaborative work between developers and community groups.
Greenberger said the work Wednesday represented “taking on a big tip of the iceberg.” ZCC executive director Eva Gladstein closed the meeting with the news that small ZCC work groups will explore each issue in depth in the coming months.
Public meetings scheduled
There will be four community meetings during the last week of October that will give the public additional opportunities for input on the draft proposal of Recommendations for a New Zoning Code. The agenda at each session will consist of ZCC responses to public priorities, a summary of ZCC work to date, key recommended changes and next steps. PlanPhilly encourages interested citizens to attend.
Thursday, Oct. 22: University Square, 3901 Market Street, 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 27: Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, 901 S. Broad Street, 6-8 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct 28: Lincoln High School, 3201 Ryan Ave., 6-8 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 29: Temple University Student Faculty Center, 3340 N. Broad Street, 6-8 p.m.
ON THE WEB:
Zoning Code Commission: www.zoningmatters.org.
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