Recent tweaks to the zoning code by City Council have angered some River Wards residents, while others are relieved that changes weren’t more severe.
City Council Bill 120656, which was passed into law on Thursday, institutes parking requirements for multifamily-residential neighborhoods like Fishtown, Northern Liberties and Port Richmond. It also increases the minimum square-footage of dwelling units from 360 to 425 square feet.
“When you have the City Council tinkering outside of what they should be doing with zoning, it really impedes our progress as a neighborhood,” said Philip Stoltzfus, president of the Olde Richmond Civic Association.
“It seems like we have to keep fighting City Council on these pieces of zoning legislation that are very narrow-minded and have a very small focus,” he said.
The bill, introduced by City Councilman Brian O’Neill (D-10th dist.) in October on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke, originally was written to increase the minimum size of dwelling units to 480 feet. It also originally required one off-street parking space for every three units of new housing in multifamily-housing zoned areas.
Under the city’s first new zoning code in 25 years, which was signed into law in August, neighborhoods with multifamily zoning did not have parking requirements.
However, the final version of the bill doesn’t require off-street parking until a development has five units. The first three units of any development are considered to have no parking requirement, and then, with each additional unit, developments will be required to build off-street parking at a rate of three parking spaces per 10 units.
Five-unit residential developments would be required to have one parking space.
Other community members that firmly opposed the original version of Bill 120656 had fewer complaints about the amended, final version of the bill.
“The addition of the clause that keeps the parking requirement at zero until the fifth unit would greatly reduce the impact on our neighborhood with unneeded variances and is a welcome amendment,” said Matt Karp, chair of the Fishtown Neighbors Association’s Zoning Committee.
Karp credited City Councilman Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.), the City Planning Commission, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation and other neighborhood associations with protesting the original version of the bill and securing these changes. Karp and FNA president Jill Betters sent a letter to the City Council stating their firm opposition to the original form of the zoning bill in November.
“The previous version of the bill would have rolled back the improvements made by the new code and caused more community meetings for small projects that would have been previously by-right to construct,” Karp said. “It would have also allowed developers to build by-right garages along Frankford Avenue and Girard Avenue, which are commercial corridors that the community typically denied variances for garages on.”
Port Richmond realtor Nick Pizzola said he was very satisfied with the amended version of Bill 120656. He testified before the City Council in October against the original version of the bill, and told Star that, as it was originally written, this bill would have stopped his plans to develop triplexes and duplexes on Monmouth Street dead in their tracks.
“In the city, you don’t build sprawling properties with lots of parking … It doesn’t make sense,” Pizzola said. “Port Richmond is not a suburb. Port Richmond is in a city.”
Most sources said City Council had reached a balance between the original language of the bill and the complaints of community members.
“While I am generally opposed to City Council tinkering with the new zoning code only a few months after it took effect, and I was opposed to the original Bill 120656, the amendments appear to have mitigated the effects of the original bill,” said Richard DeMarco, an attorney who served on the city’s Zoning Code Commission.
“While I was opposed to the original bill, as I read it now, it appears that the amendments are fair. Time will tell, of course, but the bill has been significantly improved since it was introduced,”he said.
However, other sources still questioned these and other changes the City Council is making to the zoning code.
“Generally, our sentiment is that the new code is still too new to tinker with,” said Leo Mulvihill, chair of ORCA’s Zoning Committee. “It represents one of the largest city-citizenry collaborations in recent Philadelphia history and was the result of too many hours of intensive thought, revision and collaboration to amend it before we understand the effects of it as written.”
Councilman Squilla was out of town on Friday and could not be reached for comment about the final version of Bill 120656.
However, Squilla had a small victory with another parking-related piece of legislation this week with Bill 120799, which will only allow permit parking if 60 percent of the residents in a neighborhood support it.
The old zoning code required a 51 percent majority, which Squilla said was too low. He originally proposed a 70 percent majority requirement, but that was amended to 60 percent.
That bill was discussed last Wednesday at City Council and recommended “favorable,” which means it is likely to pass when it returns to the City Council on Dec. 13 for a vote.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.