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.

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

Full Story: Changing Skyline: Philly switches to new zoning code



Looks Like New Zoning Ignores Fair Housing

A quick look at Philadelphia's new zoning code suggests that it blatantly violates the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA). It appears -- and I stress the word "appears" -- to place community residences for people with disabilities under the moniker "personal care homes" which are prohibited in the first three residential districts and then allowed only by special use permit in the other residential districts. If this is the case (and I could not find any other term that could encompass community residences) -- Philadelphia's new zoning code is a pretty blatant violation of the Fair Housing Act. At a minimum, community residences for people with disabilities must be a permitted use in all residential districts subject, at most, to a rationally-based spacing distance (probably no more than a typical block) and requirement of a license or other certification (with a special use back up provision available for proposed community residences that do not meet both objective requirements). The legislative history of the FHAA makes it quite clear that special use permits are not allowed as the primary means of regulating community residences for people with disabilities.

I hope I'm reading the ordinance incorrectly, but I honestly could not find any term in the new ordinance other than "personal care home" that could possibly include community residences for people with disabilities. If this really is the case, it is astounding that 24 years after the FHAA was enacted a major American city could totally ignore its existence. I certainly apologize if I did read the ordinance incorrectly.

Daniel Lauber, AICP
AICP President 2003-2005, 1992-1994
APA President 1985-1986

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