Code evaluation report
Kirk Bishop, from Duncan Associates – one of the four consulting companies involved with the code overhaul – gave the commissioners some preliminary findings and observations, and said things were proceeding apace. One conclusion that gathered a solid laugh: “The ordinance is difficult to use.”
“We can confirm,” Bishop said, that the zoning code is difficult to navigate and understand, with few cross-references or pointers to other important information, and that the “organizational approach is not intuitive.”
This, of course, is why the consultants are here, but it was pretty embarrassing nonetheless to hear from an out-of-towner that the code “could benefit from a standard table of contents and a detailed index,” and that the current page format and numbering “does not aid comprehension.”
Bishop said Philadelphia’s 55 base zoning districts and roughly 30 “special districts” were confusing enough, but that there are even sub-areas of control within those districts. He said consolidation is a possibility in certain overlapping districts.
Other problems from the evaluation that don’t necessarily come as a surprise to code users:
• An inconsistent handling of design issues
• Regulations that don’t address the interplay between private development and the public realm (outside certain Center City locations and some special districts)
• Uncodified rules and guidelines that do not include specifics like Planning Commission policies or L&I interpretations
• An over-regulation of common-use zoning, resulting in a “staggering number of cases” for the ZBA
• The city’s heavy reliance on discretionary review of zoning for community use projects and minor improvements
• The use of variances as a “development review / guidance technique”
“I’m just scratching the surface,” Bishop said.
Greenberger suggested devoting the next monthly meeting – scheduled for Feb. 11 – to address these broad concerns and possible solutions.Code users, community outreach
Tracy Tackett of the consulting firm CHPlanning said that 20 code user interviews have been done and that about 100 people have been interviewed.
“There’s a lot of talk about process and procedures,” she reported. “The process needs to be more predictable.”
Beverly Harper of Portfolio Associates said that five of the 10 community outreach meetings to come have been confirmed.
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