Last week, a new face appeared behind the long desk of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the body that enforces the zoning code by deciding whether and how to grant exceptions to its rules. The face belongs to Greg Pastore, a landlord, member of Bella Vista Town Watch, and former Zoning Code Commissioner, who was appointed to the ZCC by former Councilman Frank DiCicco.
Pastore will fill a vacancy on the ZBA left by Queen Village veteran Jeff Rush, who died unexpectedly this summer. Rush and Pastore sometimes worked together as representatives of adjacent neighborhoods, and Rush was also close to DiCicco. On the ZCC and in public hearings since, Pastore has been among the staunchest advocates for uniformity in zoning rules.
Members of the Zoning Board serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. The ZBA typically meets once or twice a week, on the 18th floor of the City of Philadelphia Building, at 1515 Arch Street. According to Mayor’s Office spokesman Mark McDonald, ZBA members receive $100 per meeting, and not more than $22,000 in a year.
PlanPhilly put a few questions to the newest appointee on Friday. The questions and answers have been edited for clarity.
PlanPhilly: How did this appointment come about? Did you put your name into a hat? Were you chosen by the Mayor out of the blue?
Greg Pastore: Deputy Mayor Greenberger's office asked if I would be interested. I said yes. I don't know about any other candidates.
PlanPhilly: You're a landlord by day, but you also spent 12 years on the zoning committee for Bella Vista Town Watch, served on the Zoning Code Commission, and now the Zoning Board. A lot of people just wouldn't have the patience. Why do you like zoning so much?
Greg Pastore: Everyone needs a hobby! Really, it's that I am a process guy, and I like to see everybody get treated fairly. I just sort of fell into zoning because in Philly that's where the local action was (and is, I guess). Big cities are complex, and having rules that can be understood and followed and are fair to everyone is fundamental to civilization. Substantively, we end up with a better city if people follow reasonable rules.
I don't even own a car, but if there's ever a commission to organize our parking rules, sign me up!
And yes, I am just an extremely patient person. You should see me sew on a button; you would need a chainsaw to get some of them off.
PlanPhilly: As a member of the ZCC, you had a hand in writing the new zoning law for the city, and on the ZBA, you'll now be able to help enforce it. Which do you think has a greater effect on development in the city: the written rules or the Board that decides whether builders can go around them? Will you continue to be a stickler for the rules and opponent of variances on the ZBA?
Greg Pastore: The ZCC was a (very) long but finite project to create citywide rules for all properties. The ZBA is an ongoing venue for dealing with some individual properties to make sure they can be used. Obviously, the challenge is to make sure the latter process complements the former instead of rendering it meaningless. We shall see whether the professionals out there (attorneys, architects, builders, real estate agents) try mainly to conform with the code or just would rather ignore it.
PlanPhilly: The Zoning Board has been perceived, at times, as something of a rubber stamp committee that'll go along with any variance or exception as long the District Council person or community group is not opposed. It's also been seen as sort of rude and impatient in dealing with zoning applicants. What can be done to change those perceptions?
Greg Pastore: I've only been there a week! Seriously, I just hope that if the case load goes down, the pace of the hearings can maybe ease up a bit. You might not realize it, but processing so many cases can be a grind on the ZBA members, too. The paperwork really flies around up there at the front of the room.