City Council reaches ‘balance’ in new zoning amendment

Res­id­ents and neigh­bor­hood groups had dif­fer­ing re­ac­tions after the City Coun­cil amended the zon­ing code to in­clude park­ing spaces for homes with five units or more.

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 sne­w­

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