Fishtown weighs in on zoning errors

City plan­ners come to Fishtown to ask for neigh­bors' in­put on fix­ing areas of out­dated zon­ing - zon­ing er­rors can mean de­velopers put in lots of money and time un­ne­ces­sar­ily. 

Fishtown neigh­bors speak to a city plan­ner about zon­ing in their area at a re­cent meet­ing. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Did you that Kon­rad Square – the wide-open green park in Fishtown – is ac­tu­ally zoned for in­dus­tri­al use?

That’s just one of many out-of-date clas­si­fic­a­tions in the zon­ing of the Fishtown neigh­bor­hood.

At a meet­ing held by the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation last week, neigh­bors got a chance to draw their in­put right onto a zon­ing map of the neigh­bor­hood, so that Fishtown’s zon­ing can soon match the ac­tu­al uses hap­pen­ing on the street.

City plan­ners Paula Brumbelow and Dav­id Fecteau at­ten­ded this pre­lim­in­ary meet­ing, and will re­turn in about two months for a second one to get even more in­put.

“Tell me where we match, where we don’t, and how we can im­prove,” Brumbelow told the audi­ence, be­fore hand­ing out mark­ers and in­vit­ing them to draw on the maps.

Neigh­bors marked va­cant lots that were labeled as res­id­en­tial, and vice versa; they marked multi-fam­ily dwell­ings where zon­ing only lists single-fam­ily; they wrote where busi­nesses were loc­ated on blocks lis­ted as res­id­en­tial, and wrote notes on the side of the map.

“The point of remap­ping is to ul­ti­mately stream­line the pro­cess, so the zon­ing re­flects what the parts of the neigh­bor­hood are ac­tu­ally used for,” said FNA board mem­ber Isaac Slepn­er.

As Matt Karp, chair of the FNA’s zon­ing com­mit­tee poin­ted out, sec­tions of Al­len Street, Leo­pard Street and Delaware Av­en­ue in Fishtown are zoned in­dus­tri­al, even though they’re not be­ing put to in­dus­tri­al use any longer. 

Port Rich­mond Vil­lage, the shop­ping cen­ter on Ara­mingo Av­en­ue on the bor­der of Fishtown, is also zoned in­dus­tri­al. Every time a new busi­ness wants to open in the cen­ter, they must get a vari­ance from the city’s Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment for com­mer­cial use, even though the en­tire area is cur­rently ex­clus­ively used for com­mer­cial pur­poses.

“Go­ing to the ZBA is not an in­ex­pens­ive pro­pos­i­tion,” Brumbelow poin­ted out. “A de­veloper may have to do all his en­gin­eer­ing work and go to the ZBA just to be told no.”

Frank­ford Av­en­ue var­ies between mixed com­mer­cial-res­id­en­tial and ex­clus­ively res­id­en­tial uses. East Gir­ard is mostly zoned mixed com­mer­cial-res­id­en­tial, with some ex­clus­ively com­mer­cial spots.

In part due to the dis­con­nect in Fishtown’s zon­ing and the ac­tu­al uses in the neigh­bor­hood, the FNA Zon­ing Com­mit­tee gets many ap­plic­a­tions for vari­ances, ac­cord­ing to Slepn­er.

“We’re backed up through to the end of Novem­ber,” he said.

Many res­id­ents at the meet­ing said they walked away sat­is­fied.

“I got my ques­tions answered,” said a res­id­ent of Fishtown for 47 years who de­clined to give her name. “The only thing I’m afraid of is the old neigh­bor­hood be­ing squeezed out for more com­mer­cial uses.” ••

Do you have opin­ions on remap­ping Fishtown’s zon­ing? You can email your thoughts to city plan­ner Paula Brumbelow at

You can reach at

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