What Do the Experts Say About Philadelphia’s Existing Zoning Code?
ZCC Regular Session
Zoning experts hired to evaluate Philadelphia’s zoning code found the 650-page code to be outdated, difficult to understand, and complicated to navigate. The current code was adopted in 1962 and amended more than a 1,000 times since then. In a report to the ZCC, the consultants described zoning in Philadelphia as “a regulatory patchwork that does not efficiently address the contemporary needs of a modern city.” Based on the consultants’ experience in similar-sized cities, the need to consolidate districts, fit standards to neighborhood context, and incorporate “place-making” regulations stood out for Philadelphia.
While much of the experts’ assessment aligned with public opinion and code user views on zoning in Philadelphia, the consultants identified specific parts of the code that are too complex or create barriers to development. The consultants carefully analyzed the regulations in relation to the zoning map and statistics on the current workload at the ZBA, so that their observations and findings began to provide a framework for reform:
- Consolidation. Nearly half of the 31 residential districts apply to less than one percent of the total land zoned for residential uses.
- Balance. Twenty percent of land in Philadelphia falls within two industrial zoning districts. In other cities, about 20 percent is residential and another 30 percent covers everything else.
- Fit. Existing standards make most lots nonconforming. For example, in the R10A District, 90 percent of lots are nonconforming. From 2001 to 2007, the same district generated 1,636 applications to the ZBA, representing 13 percent of all cases brought before the board.
- Incentives. High commercial vacancy rates indicate a need to consider incentives and less regulation to promote reuse. In 2003, the retail vacancy rate was 23 percent.
- Simplicity. Regulations are overly complex; users are uncertain about what is required. For example, side yards are based on the height of legally required windows and special requirements apply to courts with legally required windows, without required windows, for inner courts, outer courts, narrow streets, etc.
The consultants identified other key areas of reform, including the importance addressing place-making controls and urban design, sustainability, parking and other modes of access, and process. In Duncan’s view, the fact that variances can be requested and obtained for nearly any regulation in any district is the number one cause for concern.
Next steps include a report on zoning best practices, a report on alternative code structures, and a final recommendations report. Based on the interim assessment, the consultants recommended the following target areas for research on best practices and code structures: techniques for streamlining approval procedures, while providing effective public involvement; appropriate sustainability regulations; parking provisions; historic preservation and building form controls; modular zoning; and web-based codes.
To view the consultant PowerPoint presentation and other handouts from the ZCC’s March 11 meeting, visit http://www.zoningmatters.org/commission/meetings. For video coverage of the presentation and ZCC reaction, visit http://www.planphilly.com/node/8455 .
Zoning Watch 2009 Archives
- 12/09/2009 Module 1 of the draft zoning code due December 31, but developers and community groups discuss their biggest concerns in January     (CurrentCurrent)
- 12/09/2009 ZCC releases results from opinion survey on draft recommendations     (CurrentCurrent)
- 12/01/2009 Q&A     (Current)
- 12/01/2009 Q&A     (Current)
- 11/18/2009 Zoning Code Commission adopts modified recommendations for new code; the role of public input remains a question     (CurrentCurrent)
- 10/31/2009 Neighbors fear new streamlined zoning will cut them out of the process     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/30/2009 Survey Results: Zoning should incentivize shared parking and bike parking for new businesses     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/29/2009 New zoning should protect neighborhoods but changes must be enforced     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/29/2009 Survey Results: ZCC needs to improve regulations for parking in new residential construction     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/28/2009 Survey Results: Time for the Zoning Code Commission to improve parking in neighborhoods     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/27/2009 Survey Results: Parking near workplace creates congestion     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/26/2009 Survey Results: Parking problems hit home     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/22/2009 Neighbors want a lot of say about what is built in their community     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/20/2009 ZCC and PCPC propose strategy to coordinate efforts     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/14/2009 ZCC debates zoning recommendations for public input     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/08/2009 Upcoming Zoning Code Hearing Times and Locations     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/07/2009 Community leaders tell ZCC they want power over their own destiny     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/07/2009 ZCC Hiring Program Coordinator     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 09/23/2009 Public hearing on draft zoning recommendations October 7     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 09/09/2009 ZCC to make tough decisions on zoning recommendations     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 09/09/2009 Next steps for the new code     (CurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 07/08/2009 Zoning Code Commission weighs in on best practices     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 06/10/2009 Can best practices from other cities meet Philadelphia’s needs?     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 06/10/2009 What is the future of industrial lands in Philadelphia?     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 06/10/2009 Zoning Code Commission selects Phase II Consultant Team     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 05/13/2009 Message on Zoning in Philadelphia: Simplify     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 05/13/2009 Phase I Next Steps: Best Practices Report and Discussion     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 04/27/2009 Phase II RFP Now Posted     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 04/17/2009 Submit Comments to the ZCC: Full Code Assessment and Executive Summary Available for Review     (CurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 04/08/2009 ZCC Reacts to Code Assessment     (CurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 04/08/2009 Phase II RFP Soon to be Released     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 03/24/2009 What Do Philadelphians Want Most from the Zoning Code Commission?     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 03/13/2009 What Do the Experts Say About Philadelphia’s Existing Zoning Code?     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 03/13/2009 Zoning Experts Recommend Fixes to the ZCC     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 03/12/2009 Tell the ZCC What You Think: Interim Assessment of Existing Code Available for Review     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 03/12/2009 Phase I Civic Engagement Process Ends with Input from the 2nd District: Give the Public More Say, Strengthen Existing Neighborhoods, and Fix the Process     (CurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 03/04/2009 Redevelopment and Public Say are Key Issues in the 4th and 9th Districts     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 02/24/2009 100 Participants in the 3rd District Call for a Fair and Efficient Zoning Process     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 02/19/2009 Top Priorities for the 5th District: Protect Neighborhoods, Encourage Redevelopment and Improve Process     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 02/11/2009 Experts and Public Agree on Zoning Priorities     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 02/11/2009 ZCC Grapples With Big Zoning Issues: Variances and Civic Input     (CurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 02/05/2009 Neighborhoods, Process, and Design of New Buildings are Priorities for the 1st District     (CurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 02/03/2009 6th District: Improve Zoning Process and Protect Existing Neighborhoods     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 01/26/2009 8th Councilmanic District Speaks Out on Zoning     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 01/14/2009 Code Evaluation Update     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 01/14/2009 ZCC Forms Civic Engagement Committee, Creates Vice-Chair Positions     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 01/14/2009 ZCC Director in Place     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 01/14/2009 Community Outreach Begins – 5 of 10 Meetings Scheduled     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 10/20/2009 BIA supports ZBA quorum bill and asks for more reforms     (CurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 09/18/2009 Efforts underway to reduce delays at ZBA and speed up review     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 01/14/2009 Consent Calendar Proposed for ZBA     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 11/25/2009 Regulating digital signage – attend seminar December 4     (CurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 09/08/2009 Zoning Reform Nightmares     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 09/08/2009 FixItPhilly Parking Survey     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 06/18/2009 Council passes bill to create riverfront overlay district     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 06/04/2009 Rules Committee Supports Waterfront Zoning     (CurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 05/20/2009 Will developers be welcome in Fairmount Park?     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)
- 05/20/2009 Waterfront Zoning Approved by Planning Commission; Public Hearing June 3     (CurrentCurrentCurrent)