City Planner Blackwell Doesn’t Want Three Story Homes on Two Story Blocks

A couple of years ago, then Council-President Verna introduced a bill that banned three story homes in Point Breeze which was quickly buried by a wave of opposition. The new zoning code, when it came out a year and a half ago, required that new three-story homes adjacent to existing two-story homes have an eight-foot setback, to "preserve that character" of the two story blocks. Because this regulation simply requires a setback but doesn't require matching the prevailing cornice line on the block, we've seen examples of new homes with setback third stories, but uneven cornice lines resulting in a somewhat jarring architectural experience.

Setback present, but cornice line isn't preserved on Federal Street.

In a new effort to change the new zoning code, Jannie Blackwell introducted Bill 140075 a few weeks back. This bill would eliminate the setback requirement, and simply forbid the construction of a three-story building on a block that's more than 50% two-story. It also would only allow for the construction of a two-story home if two-story homes are on both sides of the new construction. And here we thought we were done with this stuff!

According to Plan Philly, Blackwell introduced the bill to once again help these blocks "maintain their character." Forgive us for thinking that this proposal has more to it than simple architectural concerns. From our perspective, we do actually see an architectural problem that's caused by 1) high demand for new construction, 2) non-existent demand for two-story new construction, 3) the impossible economics of building two-story new construction homes, 4) the fact that taller homes between shorter homes can look pretty weird, and 5) the zoning code flaw that allows setbacks to look so strange. But we have a solution that could satisfy many of the architectural critics- preserve the cornice line and require a mansard! Look at the effect on the 2400 block of Lombard Street:

Three story homes on a two story block, executed to perfection

See how the additions are slightly set back and the cornices of the three-story homes line up perfectly with the cornices of the two-story homes? Doesn't that look great? Couldn't this work in neighborhoods that are seeing new construction after decades of decay? Wouldn't this be an attractive compromise?

The Planning Commission will be discussing this bill at their meeting on Tuesday, at 1515 Arch St., at 1pm. If you'd like the see what they think or register your opinion, you should make the trip! See you there?