New Zoning Code Debuts in Philly

This week, Philadelphia officially enacted the long-overdue replacement to its antiquated 1962 zoning code. City leaders hope the simplified and modernized code will encourage development.
August 24, 2012, 5am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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According to Inga Saffron, Philadelphia's new streamlined zoning code better reflects the needs of a post-industrial city. "The 384-page manual replaced now-antiquated and cumbersome zoning regulations that had been in use since 1962, when Philadelphia still saw itself primarily as a manufacturing center. The new rules, worked out by a citizens' commission, are meant to support Philadelphia as it rebuilds its residential neighborhoods and evolves into a city of universities, medical centers, and high-rises."

One of the goals that drove the overhaul was to reduce development review and increase predictability for developers. As Saffron notes, "Because the old code was obsolete, nearly every project required a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment, a process that was both costly and time-consuming"

Another key element of the code is the formalization of neighborhood involvement in the approvals process. Writing in Next American City, Ryan Briggs notes that, "The new code explicitly states that a public neighborhood meeting must be held for projects requiring a variance and all projects beyond a certain scale, but that representative groups must be Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) that are already on file with the ZBA."

Although Briggs sees the rules dictating community involvement as an improvement over the previous system, he cautions that, "the new regulations don't set a very high bar for registrants and allow for significant overlapping."

Thanks to Stuart Andreason

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Published on Thursday, August 23, 2012 in The Philadelphia Inquirer
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