David Feldman, an architect and founder of the development outfit Right-Sized Homes, has been named the new director of the Development Workshop, a lobbying group and consortium of builders, designers, attorneys, and engineers that got started in 2008. Feldman will take over for Craig Schelter, a former director at PIDC and the Planning Commission who helmed the Development Workshop since its founding.
Feldman said he would be the “eyes, ears, and mouth” of the Workshop, keeping its members informed about trends and legislation that could affect development in Philadelphia while also making sure city leaders know the group’s stance on important questions of planning and zoning.
Schelter has done just that since 2008, tenaciously testifying at meetings of the Zoning Code Commission during the overhaul of the zoning code, the Planning Commission, and City Council. The Workshop’s steady resistance to regulations it viewed as overly strict and unrealistic has had lasting impacts on citywide zoning policy as well as the Master Plan for the Central Delaware Riverfront.
Feldman was chosen to be the Workshop’s director—its only paid position—because of his combined experience in housing development, design, and work with government agencies, according to Schelter and Michael Sklaroff, a Ballard Spahr attorney who serves as the group’s chairman. He was chosen for his “smarts, great sense of humor, commitment to the city,” and his experiences with architecture and development, Sklaroff said.
“And he was recommended to us by a lot of people I trust as a terrific guy,” Sklaroff added.
Feldman is the son of a Philadelphia realtor, and he holds degrees in architecture and design from Harvard and Penn. He has worked as a consultant to nonprofit development groups and as a program officer at LISC, which supports community development work in Philadelphia and other cities. He also previously served as director of Habitat for Humanity. Right-Sized Homes has focused on building low-cost urban infill housing in Philadelphia.
Feldman was also active in the zoning-code reform process that culminated in 2011, attending 48 out of 51 Zoning Code Commission meetings, by his own count. Schelter said that some of the ideas he raised during that process made him an attractive candidate for the Development Workshop job as well.
The Development Workshop is comprised of some of the biggest development names in Philadelphia, including Carl Dranoff, Joe Zuritsky of the Parkway Corporation, Stephen Pouppirt of Clemens Construction, and attorneys for Ballard Spahr, Blank Rome, and Cozen O’Connor. Feldman's experience represents a different kind of development and style, but one that he sees as compatible with the broader interests of the group.
“Without the ability to develop good projects, the city can’t grow, and if the city isn’t growing, there isn’t going to be a demand for good projects,” Feldman said last week. “These are folks who I think are aware of that shared interest. So whether it’s some folks who may do it out of total civic altruism or whether it’s out of total self financial interest, whichever that motivation is, they’re aware that if the city’s not healthy, they don’t have an opportunity for their projects.”
In 2012, the Development Workshop raised last-minute concerns about a law that would require a 50-foot development buffer on all the city’s streams and waterways, though the issue had once been considered settled. It also contributed to delays in the adoption of the Central Delaware zoning overlay, which formalized the principles of the Master Plan. Schelter said he still thinks that plan is unrealistic, and that its seven-mile scope is too big.
“I think in the last administration they were so aspirational in their planning that you could see there were things that were not going to happen in eight years, two mayoral terms, and were not going to happen in 16 years,” Schelter said.
“Pick a smaller area to deal with and you’ll have a more realistic and dramatic impact over that area,” he added.
Matt Ruben of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, which frequently found itself at odds with Development Workshop, said the group could be difficult to work with.
“I can’t speak for all the members of the Development Workshop, but my understanding is [the group] includes members who want to be a positive part of Philadelphia’s future on the waterfront and elsewhere,” Ruben said.
But, he added, “The Development Workshop’s leadership that worked on the Central Delaware planning process, and the legislative process that came after that, did not acquit itself in a way that was helpful to the process or to Philadelphia. So I hope this is a new day for the Workshop.”
Schelter* was hired to work at the City Planning Commission under Ed Bacon in 1968. After working his way up to become director of the Commission under Mayor Bill Green, Schelter left in 1983 for a post at PIDC, then the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation. He left PIDC in 2002 and has worked as a consultant since then.
Michael Sklaroff said that Schelter had a unique ability to see “three steps ahead” in considering proposed legislation and was an effective advocate for efficiency and predictability in the city’s planning and development processes. Feldman has a similar eye for detail with a different range of experiences.
“David’s commitment to civic causes is not only a credit to him but also adds dimensions to his role in the Workshop that are valuable to us,” Sklaroff said.
*Note: Schelter serves on PlanPhilly’s advisory board.