New Philly zoning code aims to help seniors ‘age in place’

    Philadelphia City Council is expected to approve a brand new zoning code Thursday. The first comprehensive overhaul to the code since the 1960s, it aims to help city dwellers “age in place.”

    The new code will require 10 percent of homes in new subdivisions to be “visitable”–that means one entrance with no step, a half bathroom on the first floor, and doors and hallways wide enough for wheelchairs.

    That not only makes homes more visitor-friendly, it makes retrofitting easier down the road, said Susan Klein with the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

    “If you have these three things, if the person who lives in the home becomes disabled, it is easy to modify,” Klein said.

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    The change will apply to only a small percentage of new projects.

    “In an ideal world, is this what I would want in there? No,” Klein said. “Is this a recognition of really important issues that will help people age in place? Yes.”

    The new code also includes adult day-care centers for the first time. The old code referenced only child-care centers, which meant care providers for adults often faced months of delay and added costs associated with getting a variance, according to Eva Gladstein, executive director of the zoning code commission.

    “In the new zoning code, because adult day care is listed as a specific use, it will be much easier for somebody to go in the code, research where that is permitted and then be able to get a zoning permit easily,” Gladstein said.

    Gladstein said offering more support services for families will allow more older Philadelphians to age in their homes and communities instead of having to move into a nursing home.

    The new code also paves the way for additions to homes or garages–“accessory dwelling units” or in-law suites–to be added to existing homes if City Council passes an ordinance allowing it in specific neighborhoods.

    The new zoning code also encourages clustered, walkable communities near mass transit.

    If the city council approves the code Thursday, it will go into effect eight months later.

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