At the end of August, years of intense effort, healthy debate, and deep thought were rewarded when Philadelphia’s first new zoning code in decades officially became the law of the land. Now here we sit, just three months later, and some members of City Council are attempting to unravel certain aspects of this carefully crafted and endlessly vetted new code before giving it the time it needs to spread its proverbial wings.
Yesterday, an exhausting meeting of the City Council’s Committee of the Rules resulted in support of a poorly conceived and ill-advised reduction in the threshold for registered community organizations to influence the zoning process, and the tabling of a measure to haphazardly alter two of the new zoning districts delineated in the new code. While we’re concerned that fringe community groups consisting of as little as one or two individuals may now have a legitimized seat at the table, we’re even more disturbed about the effort by Councilman O’Neill to make it more onerous for developers to execute certain uses in certain commercial districts.
In short, O’Neill wants to reduce the number of by-right uses in two types of commercial districts, bringing additional cases before community groups, the ZBA, and under the discretion of the district councilperson. O’Neill contends that his proposal will help protect communities from projects they don’t want and will give neighbors a greater voice. While this may indeed be the case, let us not lose sight of the fact that it would also provide the councilman (and his colleagues in other districts) an opportunity to chime in on more projects, further reinforcing their absolute power in their respective fiefdoms. With mixed reactions to the among Rules Committee members, one particularly upsetting yet possible solution would be to apply the bill in certain council districts, but not others. Yes folks, we’re this close to living is a truly Federalist town.
Look, we get it that members of City Council have their jobs riding on whether they’re able to help their constituents solve the problems of the day. And we’re not suggesting that the new zoning code is perfect in every way and couldn’t benefit from some changes, eventually. But can’t we agree that three months is not nearly enough time to make those determinations? Would it kill us to just see how things shake out for a year before we start arbitrarily changing certain districts and re-complicating our city’s zoning? Can someone please agree with us so we don’t feel like we’re shouting into the void here?