Zoning Commission Open Houses now closed

At Tuesday’s final Zoning Code Commission open house, over 40 people dropped in offer their feedback about changes to the zoning code. The ZCC did not offer a formal presentation at this final public meeting. Instead, attendees made their way around a portion of Independence Visitor Center, where stations highlighted different elements of the zoning code and where staff of the Planning Commission and consultants discussed the changes and took feedback.

Eva Gladstein, the executive director of the ZCC, greeted people as they entered.

“I like the format,” Gladstein said. “People like it because it’s more intimate. People have talked about very specific concerns,” including, according to Gladstein, farmers’ markets, use regulations in Old City, and hotel development.

Feedback came from both new zoning hands and old zoning hats.

Steve Stofka, a Temple University student majoring in geography and urban studies, said that his class schedule had kept him away until this open house. He expressed concern that the form and design standards in the code would be both too lenient and overly strict.

“If form and design is too strict, we might not get progressive architecture. If it’s too lenient, you might not get the kind of architecture you’d like to see,” Sotfka said. He suggested that commercial development in Philadelphia reflect some of the old-school styles of building.

“I like to see urban design standards such that you see new buildings that look more like Wanamakers”—now the Macy’s building in Center City—”than Ikea,” a box store in South Philadelphia.

“I’d like to see standards being retroactively applied,” Stofka said. He mentioned The Gallery development in particular, where entrances are on corners and on north-south streets but do not front Market Street, and where ground floor windows ignore the streetscape, turning inwards. Stofka suggested that developments like The Gallery be required to comply with new zoning standards if any elements of the building were to change.

Joe Schiavo, who has been exceptionally active in zoning matters on behalf of the Old City Civic Association, said that while the stations did a good job of introducing sweeping changes to the public, they didn’t necessarily drill down to the level that would clarify things for specific neighborhoods. Nonetheless, Schiavo praised a number of aspects of the zoning code revision and the revised processes.

“You may not see this clearly in the boards, but you can see things are pointed in a good direction,” Schiavo said. He emphasized one particular change.

“The requirement to post if a hearing has changed—[under the current code] you don’t have to repost a notice,” Schiavo said. Under the revised code, a change in a hearing date must be reposted, preventing developers from doing an end-run around public meeting requirements by changing meeting dates at the last minute.

“Simple small things like that,” please him, Schiavo said, “where small things come out of community.”

On Tuesday, community members could give feedback at each station, where Planning Commission staff members wrote the feedback on large notepads. Public comments, and questions, included:

  • “Do historic districts limit energy collector’s ability to be viewed from the street?”
  • “Do open space controls impact parking decks (as opposed to parking lots)?”
  • About accessory dwelling units: “What happens when ‘Granny’ moves out?”
  • “TOD [Transit-oriented Districts]: Should consider Market East”
  • “Parking—large developments should have courtyard as opposed to alley”

The stations were connected, and color-coordinated to the ” of Philadelphia2035, the overarching plan for the city in the coming decades.

“We organized the boards this way to align the code with Philadelphia2035,” said Gladstein. “It was a device for us, but [also] started stimulating some other thinking, not just on the code regulations, but on the bigger picture.”

Zoning commissioners Stella Tsai, Greg Pastore, and Stacey Graham of Councilman Bill Green’s office also attended Tuesday’s open house. Friday, November 12 is the deadline for written comments on the draft revision of the zoning code.

Contact the reporter at ngilewicz@planphilly.com

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