Sorry for the recent silence, folks. A busy time of year, as you know. Hearings continue apace in City Council over various amendments to the zoning code. To recap:
1) Stream buffer bill was passed (!) with minor revisions
2) Technical aka cleanup amendments also passed, more substantive changes pulled out to become separate bills for which hearings are ongoing
3) Sign controls is up next! This is the last chapter of the zoning code (14-900 for those counting) which was not delivered to council with the rest of the rewritten code. Why? It’s complicated! A new sign controls chapter is up for discussion in Council this week, and in honor of this, we leave you with this totally bizarre 70s song about signs. If you care a lot about signs, then you might want to pop over to City Hall and see what’s brewing.
Today marks another step in the enactment and institutionalization of Philadelphia’s new zoning code with the announcement of six of the seven committee members for Civic Design Review. It’s wonky, as are most of the things we like to talk about, because this group is tasked with assessing the impacts projects have on the public realm. But it’s also a ‘thank goodness’ moment because we’ve been waiting for a standardized way to address these issues in the development review process, and the new code came up with CDR as a way to codify the way these discussions will proceed. CDR establishes a predictable way for developers, design professionals, and the public to engage on issues of walkability, street activity, connectivity, and other sometimes-hard-to-grasp-and-quantify features of a person’s physical experience in the public space of the city.
Technically, Civic Design Review (CDR) went into effect on August 22nd along with the rest of the zoning code, but as some of you may remember, CDR is only triggered in certain circumstances, when projects are of a certain size as compared to the affected properties around them. There are three tiers for CDR, outlined in great detail in 14-300, the chapter of the zoning code that deals with administration and procedures. There’s a chart of the three triggers, and a handy diagram detailing what constitutes an ‘affected property’ in CDR cases. We’d copy them here for you, but they really don’t make great visuals, so we encourage the curious to check them out on their own time.
A full press release discussing the CDR committee members is available on the city’s wordpress blog. Why only 6 of 7 announced, you may ask? Well, the 7th seat is intentionally left open for a representative of the local RCO. Whenever a project triggers CDR, a local RCO with boundaries that include the parcel in question are asked to appoint someone to sit on the CDR committee to provide the local perspective. In cases where multiple RCO’s include the area of a CDR project, the RCOs are still to decide on a single representative to sit on the committee. In cases where a decision can’t be reached or a local RCO does not exist, the district council person for that area is the designated appointee.
We’re excited to announce this step, one of many coming online slowly but surely to make the zoning code’s procedures the reality of how we do business in Philadelphia. We’re also excited to say that we’ve received the first submission of a project that triggers CDR review, so this group will get their feet wet very soon! Stay tuned, and leave questions in the comment section.
Today’s district spotlight focuses on the Lower Northeast District Plan and specifically the plan’s ideas for Castor Avenue. On Tuesday, October 16th, the Lower Northeast District Plan will be presented for adoption at the monthly meeting of the Planning Commission.
We’d like to get your thoughts on what is turning out to be the most controversial (and the only controversial) recommendation in the plan. That controversial recommendation is to change the zoning classification along a 4-block stretch of Castor Avenue in the Oxford Circle neighborhood from a mix of CA-1, CMX-1, and CMX-2 to CMX-2.5 (recommendation # 5). These blocks, from Robbins Street to Unruh Avenue, contain a mix of retail and office uses in one- and two-story buildings. Residential uses above retail stores are few and far between along this stretch of Castor Avenue.
Castor Avenue Existing Conditions
What’s CMX-2.5? Well we’ve covered that in a previous post, but let’s recap. CMX 2.5 is intended to accommodate active, pedestrian-friendly retail and service uses in commercial nodes and along commercial corridors. CMX 2.5 has a zero front-yard setback, a 25-foot building-height minimum, and a building maximum of 55 feet. It also permits a more limited range of uses than CMX-2 by not permitting such things as take-out, utilities and services, vehicle repair and services, gas stations, funeral homes, and storage.
CA-1 and CMX-1, which dominate Castor Avenue zoning now, are low density commercial zoning categories. CA-1 is auto-oriented and does not permit a residential aspect; while CMX-1 can be residential only and does not permit sit-down restaurants, some of the most successful businesses on Castor.
Rendering of Castor Avenue with the uses and dimensions allowed by CMX-2.5 zoning illustrated.
So why do we think CMX 2.5 is the right fit for these four blocks of Castor Avenue? Here are our reasons why we feel this change is appropriate:
Now that the new code is in effect, we’ll be spotlighting the zoning code every week in our “Get in the Zone” series. Today’s Q&A topic: Registered Community Organizations (RCOs)
Q: Am I a RCO?
A: Well, one individual cannot be a Registered Community Organization. But if you’d like to check if your organization is an RCO, there are two places to look. One is on the Planning Commission’s website where we have links to lots of handy RCO documents including a list of all the accepted Local and Issue-Based RCOs.
The other is a map. On the maps page, under “Map Browser” (upper right-hand corner), you can choose from an array of maps including RCOs, zoning, and L&I permits and violations. Take the website’s tour to learn how to use the maps. The “search” button on the upper left will let you search for a specific address. Type in your address to find out if your organization is an RCO or what RCOs cover your property.
You’re probably covered by an RCO or two. Can you name them all?
Geno’s Steak’s is located in the heart of the Cheesesteak Square, er, Passyunk Square neighborhood. Credit: Photo by G. Widman for GPTMC
Now that the new code is in effect, we’ll be spotlighting the zoning code every week in our “Get in the Zone” series. Have you made your reservations for the Center City District’s Restaurant Week yet? No? What are you waiting for? Obviously you’re waiting to book until you know the answers to today’s Q&A topic: Eating and Drinking Establishments
Q: I’m a producer, guest judge, gourmet chef, extreme eater, and taco samurai for the Food Network and the Gordon Ramsey Plot for Global Reality Programming Domination. I estimate that about 20% of all of our onsite locations are in Philadelphia and I’m hoping this new zoning code can give me delectable insights into locations beyond the Reading Terminal Market and the Cheesesteak Square neighborhood.
A: That’s great! We love all the positive press our food scene is generating for the City of Brotherly Love. The new code has three types of sub-uses under the larger banner of “eating and drink establishments”: prepared food shop; take-out restaurant; and sit-down restaurant.
Also, I believe that “Cheesesteak Square” prefers the name “Passyunk Square” – just for future reference.