The Philadelphia City Planning Commission voted to approve two zoning bills Tuesday afternoon aimed at bringing a Bottom Dollar grocery store to Girard Avenue and preparing a site for the relocation of the Whole Foods Callowhill store. Both bills were introduced in February by Councilman Bill Greenlee on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke.
The former bill would rezone a long-vacant lot at 9th and Girard from its current combination of industrial and commercial districts to CMX-3, a commercial mixed-use zoning district. The site is owned by 9th Street Marketplace, LLC, which bought the property last November for $570,000, according to Office of Property Assessment records. (The lot’s assessed value under AVI has not yet been made public.)
The proposed development would include nearly 42,000 square feet of leasable retail space, more than 18,000 sq. ft. of which would be dedicated to a grocery store. The developer plans to provide 127 parking spaces. A Bottom Dollar food store also opened recently in Brewerytown.
The Commission ultimately voted to accept its staff’s recommendation, which was to approve the rezoning to CMX-3, but not three amendments to the zoning regulations for that specific site. The developers are seeking an expansion of the permitted curb cut area, a reduction of the required landscaping, and an adjustment of the sign regulations.
Planning Commissioners seemed to feel the developers could “try harder” to fit the full, code-required 10 percent landscaping into the site’s parking lot, as opposed to only 5 percent, which the bill would permit. They sympathized with the developers’ suggestion that a pylon sign at 9th and Girard would be half-blocked from view by the elevated regional rail lines. But they didn’t think that justified their request: to combine the square footage of the code-permitted two pylon signs into one sign of 200 square feet.
Commissioners were even more sympathetic with the expanded curb-cut request. The zoning code currently allows one vehicle access point up to 24 feet wide per street frontage. The developers are seeking 30-foot-wide curb cuts on two street frontages and an 80-foot-wide cut on a third street frontage, for trucks to come and go. Commissioners acknowledged that the narrow site is a difficult one to develop, and toward the end of their discussion, Chairman Alan Greenberger seemed to suggest the Commission could recommend the bill with the curb-cut amendment. He said that other developers had been raising the same concern about the cut being too small for commercial and industrial sites.
The Commission ultimately voted to approve CMX-3 zoning with none of the code adjustments, which at least one Commissioner suggested were spot-zoning fixes that would represent a step toward a less coherent zoning code. Alan Greenberger suggested that the Commission may take up the curb-cut issue citywide when it comes time for the one-year review of the zoning code in August. City Council, as always, may choose to accept or ignore the Planning Commission’s recommendation.
The other bill would rezone the area bounded by 21st, 22nd, Spring Garden, and Hamilton streets and Pennsylvania Avenue to a combination of commercial mixed-use and residential multifamily zoning. The site is planned as the future home of Whole Foods, as well as a multi-unit rental apartment complex, according to the developers.
Commissioners ultimately approved the rezoning, but some wished that the developers had provided more information. Their site plan was conceptual only, and they couldn’t say precisely how many units the residential component would be. They pointed out, however, that the project will be subject to Civic Design Review as it moves forward, and it is likely to go before the zoning board as well, as the developers expect to require relief even from the proposed new zoning designation.
A member of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association asked the Commission to hold off on approving the rezoning until the developer has a more detailed plan. Commissioner Nancy Rogo-Trainer pointed out that the Commission was being asked to approve the zoning change—which is in line with Philadelphia2035 goals of bringing more active uses to areas near the Parkway—not the design of the project itself. The current site is zoned RM-4, and the bill, if passed, will make it mostly CMX-4.
Jared Brey writes about development, zoning policy, and city government for PlanPhilly.com. He wasn't interested in being a reporter until halfway through a master's program in journalism at Temple University that he intended to parlay into an academic career. His work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, City Paper, Business Journal, and Metropolis.