PlanPhilly

Zoning

    • Azalea Gardens birds-eye rendering - Courtesy Sam Olshin

Committee approves development plans for historic property at 40th & Pine

The Architecture Committee of the Philadelphia Historical Commission voted Tuesday morning to approve the design plans for Azalea Gardens, a 122-unit apartment complex planned for the historic property at 40th and…

    • TCP's Arch street row

Bill would expand building height and density limits in Center City

A bill introduced in June by City Councilman Mark Squilla caused some head-scratching among attendees at the City Planning Commission’s monthly meeting on Tuesday. The bill as originally proposed would allow…

    • 1300 block of S. Chadwick Street - New OCF homes on left

Zoning board rejects two Point Breeze housing proposals

The Zoning Board of Adjustment denied a request for variances for the second phase of a housing development on the 1300 block of S. Chadwick Street in Point Breeze on Tuesday…

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ABOUT ZONING

Zoning is a form of “indirect” urban design, as its rules and restrictions dictate what can be built on each parcel in most American cities. Though designers rarely write code themselves, zoning affects the urban form in many ways. Every road width and building height delivers a message to their users on how to use the public realm. In fact, zoning code is often written by engineers or lawyers as opposed to planners and designers. Zoning typically regulates land use as well as basic building dimension and design details.


Zoning codes have evolved over the years as urban planning theory and political priorities have changed. Many old zoning codes, like Philadelphia’s, are outdated and economically inefficient, and do not have the flexibility in their parcel-by-parcel designation to allow for smooth transitions to new land uses.


An entire rezoning is time-intensive and strictly adhering to outdated code can hinder development. Therefore, many cities loosen their amendment process to help landowners change the zoning code quickly, or simply ignore the code and let developers build structures that directly violate the ordinance. This explains the negative connotation surrounding the Philadelphia zoning code, which is so old that it is seen by many as a direct hindrance to progressive development that could help make the city a more world-class destination. Many developers see zoning here as an obstacle to overcome, not as standards that must be met to integrate into the surrounding community.


Many cities are experimenting with different zoning types. Some more flexible zoning forms include (1) form-based zoning, which regulates by design instead of use; (2) incentive zoning, which rewards developers for meeting certain urban design standards, and (3) performance zoning, which allows landowners to meet building goals by achieving various levels of compliance. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter created the Zoning Code Commission to begin a re-zoning process for the city. The ZCC hired two primary consultants, Clarion Associates and Duncan Associates, who submitted their recommended changes to the code language to the ZCC in September 2009.


Zoning is not used in all American cities. Houston is the largest U.S. metropolis without a zoning code in place, as citizens continue to reject efforts to implement it.

UPCOMING EVENTS IN ZONING

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