Zoning Code Commission issues interim final report

The Zoning Code Commission released its Interim Final Report Monday afternoon and that version of the code—subject to minor edits—will go before the Commission for a vote Wednesday morning. According to Stacey Graham, a legislative counsel to Councilman Bill Green who has worked closely with the ZCC’s work plan committee over the past several years, “there are no outstanding disagreements in substance” between the ZCC and Council. Graham said there may yet be some points of disagreement over the language of the final report.

The new report is 403 pages, about 5 percent bigger than the preliminary report, which was 384 pages. It was issued alongside an 84-page blackline summary of amendments to the earlier report. Most of the differences between the two reports will be unsurprising to readers who’ve been following the reform process since the first report was released.

For example, Special Exception approval procedures have been amended—in response to a recommendation from Councilman Green—to conform to the standards laid out in Bray v. Zoning Board of Adjustment. (Read a PlanPhilly story on that court case here.) The code provision on composition of the Civic Design Review Committee has been adjusted to call for an “urban design professional,” rather than “transportation/urban planner.” Nonconforming uses may expand by 10 percent under the final report, rather than the 15 percent suggested in the preliminary report. A line has been added to §14-105(2)(b) which says, “Any plan accepted, but not adopted, by the Commission shall not be a factor in making a recommendation or a decision on a zoning permit by L&I, the Commission, or the Zoning Board.”

Beyond the expected, however, the final report also contains some provisions related to issues that were unresolved as recently as last week. And it appears these issues have been resolved largely in City Council’s favor.

In the interim final report, the Sky Plane Control Area provision has been removed from §14-502, which describes the Center City Overlay district. The Sky Plane controls themselves have been moved to §14-701, and they are now listed as an option, rather than a requirement. The ZCC work plan committee had recommended keeping those controls mandatory at the last ZCC meeting, in October.

The final report also accepts Council’s request to split the Medical Office use category into two types, group practice and sole practitioner, and to regulate them separately. Amended use tables in the final report show that group practices are permitted only by special exception in some districts—CMX-1, CMX-2, and CMX-2.5—where sole practitioner offices are allowed by right. Councilman Bill Green initially recommended only regulating methadone clinics separately, but the ZCC claimed that would be illegal under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. This new, less-specific provision would potentially allow for meth clinics (as group medical offices) to be barred on a case-by-case basis in certain districts.

The final report also contains three Neighborhood Commercial Area Overlay (/NCA) districts—Lower and Central Germantown, North Delaware Avenue, and Hunting Park—which were not in the preliminary report. Germantown’s overlay carries over much of its current special controls, including prohibitions on barber shops, nail salons, and “Retail sales of variety/general store merchandise in a store less than 7,500 sq. ft. in size.” Germantown’s current overlay prohibits general stores of any size. The 7,500 square foot addition incorporates a portion of a bill introduced by Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller which would effectively allow the construction of a controversial Dollar Tree in Chelten Plaza. At a meeting on October 18, the Planning Commission voted to not recommend that Council pass the bill. That bill, No. 110662, is scheduled for a Rules Committee Hearing next week.

“All of the final issues were fairly important policy questions,” said ZCC Executive Director Eva Gladstein. Sky Plane controls and regulation of methadone clinics, in particular, were two issues on which Council and the Commission could not agree until the last minute. This final report reflects Council’s wishes on those major policy questions. Nevertheless, Gladstein said she feels that the report is an improvement on Philadelphia’s current zoning code.

It remains to be seen whether Council will adopt the final report according to the Charter amendment that created the ZCC or use Councilman Brian O’Neill’s Bill No. 110766 to pass a new code outside that timeline.

PlanPhilly will have more on this story after a ZCC vote on the report, scheduled for Wednesday morning at 8:45 in the Mayor’s Reception Room (Room 201) at City Hall.

Contact the reporter at jaredbrey@gmail.com

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