Check out Bill #120656
This is an insidious attempt to turn the zoning clock backward.
It restores off street parking requirements that zoning reform eliminated.
It also re-imposes some impossible to meet dimensional requirements.
This is going to return us in many respects to the old days where the ZBA
handled 2,000 cases per year.
The Rules Committee hearing is 10/31/12 at 10:00 am. They are trying
to slip this thru under the radar.
Some more detailed comments against the bill (my apologies for the length):
Bill #120656 is a direct attack on the Zoning Reform Commission and the reforms it worked four years to implement. With a few strokes of the pen, this bill turns back the clock to the bad old days of an antiquated and dysfunctional zoning code.
The bill deals with two zoning classifications: RM-1 and CMX-2. These classifications cover vast areas of the City. RM-1 is a multifamily zone covering approximately 17% of all residentially zoned land in the city. It includes such diverse areas as Logan, Nicetown, Brewerytown Spring Garden, Mantua, Cobbs Creek, Queen Village, Rittenhouse Square, Frankford and Kensington. CMX-2 is a residential/commercial mixed use zone which covers approximately 35% of the commercially zoned land in the city.
Generally speaking, the RM-1 classification is the successor to R-9 and R-10 under the old Code. In its assessment of the existing zoning code, The Zoning Reform Commission made a couple of observations about the R-9 and R-10 zones.
First, it noted that many of the City’s “redevelopment areas” are zoned R-9 or R-10. They are areas with high rates of vacancy, abandonment and blight. The City’s redevelopment plans recognize the need to redevelop these areas.
Second, it noted that the existing zoning code created unnecessary obstacles to the redevelopment of these zones. These obstacles were due to the mismatch between zoning code requirements and the actual area and dimension of building lots. For example, a conforming lot is required to be 1,440 square feet in area. By that standard, 86% of the lots in the R-10 zone and 60% of the lots in the R-9 were nonconforming. Indeed, the average lot area in R-10 is 706 square feet.
The commission commented that, if the city truly wants to redevelop these areas, it needs to tailor the zoning regulations to fit existing conditions.
The new zoning code which took effect in August 2012 imposed a reasonable limitation of 360 square feet of lot area per unit in RM-1 and CMX-2. This restriction means that the construction of a two unit building requires 720 square feet of lot area, a three unit building 1,060 square feet, etc. Even these restrictions are somewhat questionable, because as noted above, the median lot area is only 706 square feet, but nevertheless, it's not unduly burdensome.
Bill #120656 would increase the required lot area per unit to 480 square feet in both RM-1 and CMX-2. This new standard is completely out of step with the actual size of buildings and lots in these two districts. The median lot size in the former R-10 district is only 706 square feet. Thus, even though RM-1 is designated as a “multifamily zone” in the zoning code, it would be impossible to obtain a multifamily permit for an average sized lot as of right.
In order to convert an average building to multifamily use, the owner would be required to file an appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. In its report, the Zoning Reform Commission noted that between 2000 and 2007, the ZBA heard a total of 12,609 cases. 40% of all zoning permit requests during that period required a hearing before the ZBA. The Commission was aware of no other U.S. City that relies so heavily on a Zoning Board in the administration of its zoning laws.
Requiring that 40% of all development in the City be reviewed and approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment does not make sense, the Commission said. It adds time, cost and uncertainty to the development process.
To reduce the workload of the ZBA and to streamline the development process, the Commission recommended that zoning district regulations be updated and made more flexible to take into account actual lot sizes, rather than some abstract ideal lot size that doesn’t exist.
This bill represents a return to the inflexible standards of the old antiquated zoning code. It ignores the recommendations of the Zoning Reform Commission. It increases the workload of the ZBA. And it discourages redevelopment of the city’s most blighted and dilapidated areas.
To encourage the redevelopment of blighted areas, the Zoning Reform Commission also recommended changes to the City’s off-street parking requirements. The vast majority of the building lots in the RM-1 and CMX-2 zones predate the widespread use of the automobile. The typical lot is narrow, shallow and ill-suited to accommodate parking. The city’s parking requirements should not create needless barriers to the re-use of older structures, the Commission said.
In recognition of these realities, the new Zoning Code adopted by City Council eliminated any off-street parking requirements for multifamily buildings in the RM-1 and CMX-2 zones.
Bill #120656 takes another step backward by re-imposing the needless parking requirements that the new Zoning Code got rid of. In the RM-1 zone, off street parking would be required for buildings with 3 or more units. In the CMX-2 zone, off-street parking would likewise be required for any multi-family uses.
The Philadelphia City Planning Commission in its most recent study found 13 million square feet of vacant retail space throughout the City, representing a vacancy rate of nearly 23%. By imposing parking requirements on a store owner who wishes to have apartments above his store, this Bill will only serve to encourage more vacancies on the City’s struggling retail strips.
The new Zoning Code was created through an inclusive process through the participation of community members, City Councilpeople, architects, planners and developers. The text of the new Code represents the consensus of all the stakeholders in the new Code. I would urge the members of the Rule Committee to defend the new Zoning Code from backdoor efforts to undermine it. Bill #120656 is an insidious attack on zoning reform and I would urge every member of the Committee to vote against it.