Northeast Times

Somerton Civic debates local zoning codes

Start­Frag­ment

On the sur­face, the de­bate was about two small, in­de­pend­ent auto re­pair shops, along with an equally mod­est-sized per­son­al train­ing fa­cil­ity.

But North­east-based zon­ing at­tor­ney Shawn Ward and City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill’s zon­ing spe­cial­ist, Bob Barilli, seemed to be really ar­guing over something much, much big­ger.

Their ex­change dur­ing the Feb. 14 meet­ing of the Somer­ton Civic As­so­ci­ation high­lighted com­pet­ing views on how the city will im­ple­ment its new zon­ing code, which Coun­cil passed and May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter signed in­to law in Decem­ber.

It is slated to go in­to ef­fect in Au­gust after Coun­cil mem­bers and com­munit­ies have an op­por­tun­ity to re­view and as­sess its prac­tic­al im­plic­a­tions on count­less prop­erty-use scen­ari­os.

Dur­ing the Somer­ton meet­ing, Ward ar­gued that the auto re­pair shops and fit­ness fa­cil­ity should be al­lowed to lease space in an in­dus­tri­al prop­erty on the 10000 block of Sand­may­er Lane be­cause the new zon­ing code will al­low both uses.

Barilli countered that the new code has yet to take ef­fect and that changes could be in store be­fore it does. So he op­poses let­ting tra­di­tion­ally com­mer­cial uses in­to in­dus­tri­al space.

The SCA mem­bers sided un­an­im­ously with Barilli, vot­ing down the use vari­ances sought by Ward on be­half of his cli­ents.

“This land on Sand­mey­er Lane will re­main in in­dus­tri­al [dis­tricts] and it’s not de­signed for com­mer­cial activ­ity,” Barilli said.

Un­der the ex­ist­ing zon­ing code, com­mer­cial dis­tricts gen­er­ally in­clude re­tail busi­nesses such as stores, res­taur­ants, hair salons, gas sta­tions and auto re­pair shops. In­dus­tri­al dis­tricts in­clude ware­house, dis­tri­bu­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ing and oth­er uses.

Ac­cord­ing to Barilli, auto re­pair shops were per­mit­ted with­in in­dus­tri­al zones dec­ades ago be­fore City Coun­cil passed an or­din­ance ban­ning them cat­egor­ic­ally.

Ward ar­gued that the new zon­ing code slated to take ef­fect on Aug. 22 ef­fect­ively res­cin­ded the auto re­pair ban for cer­tain in­dus­tri­al prop­erty. The site in ques­tion on Sand­mey­er Lane is now zoned G-2 (gen­er­al in­dus­tri­al), but will likely re­vert to I-2 (in­dus­tri­al) un­der the new code, he said.

In the new code, I-2 will per­mit auto re­pair shops, Ward said.

Barilli doesn’t ne­ces­sar­ily agree with Ward’s con­clu­sions. Rather, O’Neill’s aide de­scribed the new 438-page code as a doc­u­ment in flux with many changes pos­sible in the com­ing months, de­pend­ing on dia­logue in­volving the com­munity, busi­nesses, Coun­cil mem­bers and the City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion.

Fur­ther, G-2 won’t ne­ces­sar­ily trans­late dir­ectly to I-2. In­stead, the en­tire city will un­der­go a re-zon­ing pro­cess that is ex­pec­ted to take years.

As for the Sand­mey­er Lane site spe­cific­ally, the own­er of a neigh­bor­ing con­struc­tion sup­ply busi­ness spoke against the pro­posed com­mer­cial uses, fear­ing the cli­ent and vendor traffic they would gen­er­ate.

Ward said that each auto shop would have two car-lifts and two em­ploy­ees, while all em­ploy­ee and cus­tom­er vehicles would be parked off-street. The train­er, mean­while, would have two em­ploy­ees and no more than a hand­ful of cli­ents on premises at a time, Ward said.

He ques­tioned the wis­dom of for­cing auto re­pair shops in­to com­mer­cial dis­tricts in a mod­ern-day en­vir­on­ment, when few­er gas sta­tions are do­ing auto re­pairs and vice-versa.

“Per­son­ally, I’d rather have auto re­pair in in­dus­tri­al [zones]. I don’t want it next to a bakery. I don’t want it next to a Wawa. Ser­vice [gas] sta­tions are a thing of the past,” he said.

In an un­re­lated zon­ing is­sue, Eric Naftulin, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Fed­er­a­tion Hous­ing Inc., an­nounced plans to build an ad­di­tion to the Eph­raim Gold­stein Apart­ments, 728 By­berry Road, to house an adult day care cen­ter for Fed­er­a­tion cli­ents.

Fed­er­a­tion serves low- and fixed-in­come adults age 62 and older. The day care fa­cil­ity will al­low Fed­er­a­tion res­id­ents to “age in place” without hav­ing to seek of­ten un­af­ford­able day care else­where.

The ad­di­tion will meas­ure 28 feet by 16 feet and will be ori­ented to­ward the rear of the build­ing fa­cing Leo Mall. It will ser­vice up to 50 res­id­ents a day.

The next Somer­ton Civic As­so­ci­ation meet­ing will be on Tues­day, March 13, at 7:30 p.m., at Walk­er Lodge 306, 1290 Southamp­ton Road. ••

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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