A proposal to change the city’s zoning code might provide a check to what members of the Frankford Civic Association have called a proliferation of rooming houses for recovering addicts.
For the past few years, the association’s members have complained to officials about the scores of “recovery houses” and drug-treatment centers that have located in Frankford. They’ve claimed the recovery houses that give addicts places to stay while they kick their habits are largely unregulated and further, the large number of them discourage businesses from investing in the neighborhood and encourages families to leave.
Tim Wisniewski, the civic association’s treasurer and executive director of the Frankford Special Services District, said a requirement that recovery homes get state licensing has been written into a proposed revision to the city’s zoning code. Right now, he said, it seems anybody can set up a rooming house for recovering addicts with no regulation at all. That leaves the community open to more and more of those facilities, which Wisniewski hopes will change.
What can be done with a property depends on how it is zoned. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
IT’S IN THE RULE BOOK
If the city’s zoning code doesn’t allow a certain use, an owner will modify his plans so the plans will conform to what is allowed, or ask the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to permit the new use. Or, the owner takes the risk of doing what he wants to illegally, hoping for lax enforcement.
The city’s codes are about a half-century old, but they’re going to change.
The Zoning Code Commission has been working four years to trim down and simply the regulations, said the commission’s executive director, Eva Gladstein.
At a Sept. 15 meeting sponsored by the Frankford Community Development Corp., Gladstein explained to neighborhood residents the commission’s work and the modernized code.
City code currently doesn’t have a category for rooming houses or recovery houses. In a letter to Gladstein last year, the Frankford Civic Association asked for that to change.
The new code has a category called “community home,” Gladstein said during a mid-September interview. The proposed code has several levels of community homes, which are determined by size. The new code requires state licensing and requires 100 percent of the residents of the homes to be disabled.
Drug and alcohol addictions are classified as disabilities under federal law, and housing for people with disabilities is protected under federal law, she said.
However, Gladstein said, if 100 percent of the residents of a community home are not disabled, a zoning variance will be required. Further, a community’s input is required under the new code, something that was customarily sought under the old code but not actually written into it as it is in the revision.
Gladstein said the commission was trying to be responsive to the Frankford association’s appeal for recovery house regulation.
“Other communities had the same request,” she said, adding that Frankford’s request was forcefully made.
THE BALL’S IN COUNCIL’S COURT
City Council concluded its hearing on the new code on Sept. 27, Gladstein stated in an e-mail to the Northeast Times.
The hearing’s end starts a clock running, Gladstein said, which gave Council 30 days to send the Zoning Code Commission a resolution with recommendations. After that, the commission gets 30 days to sent its final report back to Council.
Council will introduce that final report as an ordinance, hold public hearings and then vote, according to Gladstein.
The proposed code took four years of work and cost about $2 million to produce, Gladstein said at the Frankford meeting.
“We wanted to make the new code more efficient, but still preserve the character of a community,” Gladstein told residents. “It is clearer and more clearly organized.”
It is a much leaner document, down from 21 chapters to nine.
The code will be easy to use. It will be online and have many maps, tables and illustrations that will link users to cross-references and zoning definitions.
Gladstein has been making the rounds of civic associations since the spring, outlining various elements of the revised code:
• It will be easier for some property owners to get approvals for desired uses. If what the owners want to do is within the code for the property involved, they’ll get permits as matters of right, she said. No community involvement or zoning board hearing will be required.
• Developers who want to do things that are not permitted will have to seek community approval and give better notice of their hearings before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which will OK or nix the plans.
• New use descriptions and new development standards will preclude many zoning variance applications, she said. Height limitations have been raised and parking requirements have been capped.
• Land-use categories will be simplified. Most retail will be retail, she said. There will be no difference in the new code between a toy store and a stationery store.
• Anything that is legal now at a certain property will remain so under the new code unless the business ceases or the property is unused for three years.
During the September meeting in Frankford, Gladstein said the revised code is designed to look to the future and be more flexible.
For certain large projects, even if zoned correctly, there is still going to be a community review because of the impact on the neighborhood, and the threshold for that will lower if a large project is near single-family homes, she said.
Under the current code, those familiar orange stickers that announce zoning hearings must remain posted for 12 days before that hearing. Under the new code, the stickers will be up 21 days before a hearing. Notices would have to be reposted if a hearing is continued to another date.
The zoning revision is available online at www.zoningmatters.org
The next commission meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 1515 Arch St. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org