Zoning code reform: How it will impact Roxborough

If you get off the regional rail at Roxborough’s Ivy Ridge Station today, you won’t see much in terms of mixed-use development. There’s a pretzel maker and an auto repair shop on Umbria Street, but for the most part, there are lots and lots of townhouses.

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 the Northwest, including Mt. Airy, East Falls, Germantown, West Oak Lane, Manayunk, Roxborough and Chestnut Hill, and get reaction to the changes from residents. 

If you get off the regional rail at Roxborough’s Ivy Ridge Station today, you won’t see much in terms of mixed-use development. There’s a pretzel maker and an auto repair shop on Umbria Street, but mostly, there are lots and lots of townhouses.

The Zoning Code Commission envisions something else entirely. In the new code, they single out Ivy Ridge Station as ripe for transit-oriented development.

Known somewhat awkwardly as “TOD,” transit-oriented development is the creation of mixed-use, high-density communities near transportation centers. It’s a clear priority for the commission, which has designated 23 places around Philly as potential TODs. The one at Ivy Ridge, specifically, should provide “limited convenience and personal service retail uses to accommodate commuter shopping needs,”says the draft.

In contrast to several parts of the new code that encourage automobile use, like the requirement that there is one parking space for every two rowhouses in some dense residential areas, the development standards for TODs promote walkability. For instance, if a building switches its “use” near Ivy Ridge Station — from, say, a nail salon to a restaurant — additional parking spaces aren’t required.

Furthermore, in TOD areas, businesses selling, fixing and maintaining vehicles are prohibited. Drive-thrus are no good, too. Rowhouses, retail businesses and offices, however, are permissible.

The new code has other things in store for Roxborough. The ZCC has reinstated steep-slope protection standards for undeveloped lands that contain slopes of 15 percent or more, and which are also adjacent to such waters as the Delaware River, Schuylkill River, Wisshickon Creek and Cobbs Creek. Since parts are Roxborough are adjacent to the Schuylkill, this means developers will continue to have to submit both earth-moving and stormwater management plans in order to prevent the Northwest’s banes: erosion and runoff.

The Wissahickon Watershed Overlay, a set of rules that governs how developers excavate land, deposit soil and create pavement, is another part of the new zoning code that attempts to mitigate flooding in the Northwest. It’s one of the only overlays that the Zoning Code Commission didn’t hack in its draft — a testament to how large and guaranteed flooding problems are in the area.

Stay tuned for more reports about the zoning code’s impact on East Falls and Manayunk from this month’s PlanPhilly zoning series.

For more news about planning, zoning and development in Philadelphia, visit planphilly.com

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