Northeast Times

New zoning regulations top Frankford Civic meeting

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.

LOOK­ING AHEAD

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 jloftus@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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