In August, the first update of the city’s zoning code in more than 50 years went into effect. Existing zoning won’t be changed retroactively, but new developments will face new regulations, such as parking-space requirements for restaurants that attract large amounts of people.
City planner David Fecteau explained to 40 members of the Fishtown Neighbors Association at their meeting Thursday how the changes to zoning code would affect the community.
Perhaps the most notable change, said Fecteau, is that, for the first time, civic groups like the FNA are written into the code.
“Nothing in the previous code compels developers to visit civic groups,” Fecteau explained. “Now, they’ve got to meet with you for zoning variances.”
One concern voiced by neighbors was about parking requirements, with one member asking whether a single-family home could construct a street-level garage. It all depends on the unique zoning of that home’s land, Fecteau explained, which in Fishtown, can range between Residential Single-Family, Residential Multi-Family and Residential Mixed-Use.
“Your property is still your property,” Fecteau said. “But we have to put something in place so that everybody isn’t set against everybody else.”
The new zoning code features another new type of district, IRMX, or Industrial-Residential Mix, which would allow for artists’ loft-style homes in industrial structures. While no such residences yet exist, it opens up a promising new avenue of potential homes in Philadelphia.
“It isn’t ‘mapped’ yet,” Fecteau told Star via email. “It doesn’t exist on the city’s zoning maps. If a property owner or civic group would like to see that district placed on certain blocks or properties, they need to request a bill from City Council.”
Fecteau also said that parking requirements won’t affect the small business popular in Fishtown, but are necessary as part of making sure that businesses which do attract large numbers of people to the area also bring the necessary parking spaces.
“If you’re going from a coffee shop to an ice cream shop, it’s not a change in parking,” he said.
Additionally, the code features a new category of restaurant – “prepared foods restaurant,” which applies to sandwich shops, delis, ice cream stores, and coffee shops, and exempts them from some requirements that sit-down restaurants face.
An official “remapping” of Fishtown, which would involve the city taking a hard look at the actual use of the structures in the neighborhood and then re-evaluating their zoning status, won’t take place until next year, perhaps later, Fecteau said. When it does happen, it will include all of the surrounding neighborhoods in the River Wards.
The city’s zoning map is available online at www.phila.gov/map.
Other topics covered at the meeting included recent crime statistics. Of 35 listed incidents between Nov. 1 and Nov. 12 in the Philadelphia Police Department’s 26th District, which includes Fishtown, car break-ins and auto theft were 25 of them.
“Park smart and be safe,” suggested FNA board member Neil Brecher.
The FNA was described as being in sound fiscal condition by treasurer Kate Micklow. She confirmed that the FNA received about $6,000 in donations during October’s River City Festival, of which Star was a sponsor.
That money is going right back into the community. FNA has sponsored 10 Thanksgiving baskets, each of which includes a turkey, for families at Lutheran Settlement House.
FNA is holding a holiday party next month on Dec. 20 and next year, it will be organizing the third annual FNA Chili Cook-off.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.