This Thursday, August 22nd, marks the one-year anniversary of the implementation of Philadelphia’s first new zoning code in half a century. In compliance with the requirements of the legislation that enacted that code, the Planning Commission will deliver a report to City Council on the first year of the new code, with recommendations for amendments and details on how the development process and be improved.
On Tuesday, Natalie Shieh, a former staffer for the Zoning Code Commission who now works under Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger, presented a preview of that report to the Planning Commission. PlanPhilly previously wrote about a draft of the one-year report, and the presentation on Tuesday contained little new specific information. We will have a more detailed account of the report after it is released on Thursday.
The Commission’s report includes feedback from code users about which parts of the code need improvement, and about how well the code is meeting its goals. Respondents to in-person and online surveys seem to generally agree that the code is living up to its goals, somewhat. In the aggregate, respondents voted between Neutral and Agree that the code is meeting the five categories of reform goals the Commission asked about. The code got the highest score, 3.6 on a five-point scale for its consistency and improved understandability. Its lowest score, 3.1, was in the category, “The new zoning code encourages high quality, positive development.”
Shieh said that nearly half the comments the Planning Commission received were related to the Registered Community Organization provisions of the code, which were amended in January through a bill introduced by Third-District Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. The consensus, Shieh said, appears to be that the current process is unwieldy. The code allows too many groups without the capacity to handle zoning issues to become RCOs, and sets too-stiff notification requirements for developers and neighborhood groups alike. The report that Council will receive on Wednesday will contain specific recommendations for amending that portion of the code to put it back nearly in line with how it was written originally.
PlanPhilly will have detailed updates on that and other recommendations of the one-year report later in the week.
Jared Brey is a freelance reporter based in Philadelphia. His work has been featured in Philadelphia magazine, Hidden City, The Philadelphia Inquirer, City & State, and other publications. He covered development, zoning policy, historic preservation, and city government for PlanPhilly from 2011-2016.