Zoning code reform doesn’t sound very sexy. But all that esoteric talk of “allowed uses” and “C2 districts” can determine how bike-friendly a city is, whether a gun shop can open in your neighborhood, or how urban farms operate. Philadelphia’s Zoning Code Commission is currently finalizing a whole new draft of the city’s zoning code, which will go to City Council next year. In this short series, PlanPhilly will analyze how the new code affects neighborhoods in Northwest Philadelphia.
At least one aspect of zoning reform will seriously affect Chestnut Hill, and it’s got nothing to do with land use, building height requirements or anything else usually associated with planning.
It’s the Civic Design Review Committee standards. This committee — which doesn’t exist in the current code — will be comprised of architects, urban planners, developers and one member of the community where the project is being proposed. These members will provide a recommendation for projects with a significant impact, such as buildings with more than 100 residences or 100,000 new square feet — and it’s totally advisory. In other words, the Department of Licenses & Inspection, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Planning Commission and City Council don’t have to listen to the committee’s ideas whatsoever.
But here’s the real game-changer: This review process will replace the many community meetings that developers now attend to court neighbors. Since Chestnut Hill is home to both the Chestnut Hill Community Association and the Chestnut Hill Residents Association — and there’s only room on the Civic Design Review Committee for one community member — that means somebody will be left out.
In fact, it means many people will. The Chestnut Hill Community Association’s current review process involves four separate committees of lawyers, design professionals, business owners and historical experts. Under the new code, one representative from the Chestnut Hill Community Association might not even make it onto the Civic Design Review Committee for every large-scale project.
According to the commission, the new process is meant to streamline what is sometimes a convoluted, development-slowing round of community meetings, as well as encourage more thoughtful discussion of larger projects. (Read more about how the Civic Design Review Committee will affect other parts of the city on PlanPhilly.)
This reform has already caused a stir. In the Chestnut Hill Local, the Community Association’s president Walter Sullivan wrote, “To apply the ‘one-size-fits-all communities’ proposal of a single ‘neighborhood meeting’ to this community would both violate our bylaws and, even more importantly, work potential grave harm to this Chestnut Hill community.”
On Tuesday we’ll look at how the zoning code rewrite will affect Mt. Airy & East Falls.