Philadelphia is nearing the end of a four-year process to revamp the City’s antiquated zoning code (the Code). Since 2007, the City’s Zoning Code Commission (the ZCC) has worked to “make the Code consistent and easy to understand, and to enhance and improve Philadelphia’s city planning process while encouraging development and protecting the character of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.” To meet these goals, the ZCC has proposed consolidating the City’s current 53 zoning classifications into 29, reducing the number of overlay districts from 33 to 10, and relegating the approval process for small residential projects (such as decks) to the administrative level. The ZCC’s revisions would also mandate earlier and more comprehensive public notice, as well as provide for a more active role for community organizations throughout the zoning process.
On Oct. 20, 2011, Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution setting forth its final recommendations on the ZCC’s draft proposal. The ZCC now has 30 days to review these recommendations and present a final report to City Council. This timetable complies with the stated goal of the ZCC, as well as some members of City Council, to complete revisions of the Code by Nov. 17, 2011, with final City Council hearings to be held no later than Dec. 5, 2011 and a final vote to be held on Dec. 15, 2011.
Highlights of the ZCC’s most recent proposals include:
- Increased Citizen Involvement. The ZCC has advocated for increased citizen input into community plans and development standards, with reduced reliance on Zoning Board of Adjustment reviews. To that end, the revised Code will recognize some community groups as formal stakeholders in the zoning process, known as “Registered Community Organizations” or “RCOs.” These RCOs will be entitled to enhanced notice and greater input when a project within their geographic service area is proposed. However, the revised Code will not alter in any manner the ability of individuals, whether a member of an RCO or not, to attend ZBA hearings or express an opinion on projects as provided in the current version of the Code.
- Support for Sustainable Projects. In support of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s green initiatives, the ZCC has recommended that sustainable design requirements be implemented within the Code to promote reduction in vehicle use as well as energy and water conservation. Specifically, small-scale wind and solar installations will be permitted as of right in conjunction with any legally-zoned principal use, while larger alternative energy facilities, including clean-burning fuel plants, will be permitted as of right on most industrial parcels. However, green projects remain subject to the traditional zoning approval process under the revised Code, and because of their size, may even be subject to the more involved Civic Design Process with heightened community notice and solicitation of community input required.
With City Council on schedule to approve the ZCC’s revisions by the end of this calendar year, Philadelphia may soon have a zoning code which is more consistent, precise and supportive of responsible growth and development. For more information on the revisions to the Philadelphia zoning code, feel free to contact Christopher E. Cummings, Esquire (firstname.lastname@example.org or 610.640.5812) or Maria J. Wing, Esquire (email@example.com or 215.564.8108).
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