Mayor Michael A. Nutter signed legislation that comprehensively rewrites and modernizes Philadelphia’s zoning code for the first time in fifty years. The four-year code rewrite process included 50 public meetings of the Zoning Code Commission (ZCC); two public hearings in City Council chambers; 36 community-based meetings; seven Stakeholder X-Change meetings; two public meetings to discuss why the Commission adopted, rejected, or modified a group’s proposal; interviews with 125 professional zoning code users and surveys of nearly 2,000 individuals on components of the proposed new zoning code.
The Zoning Code, which was passed by City Council unanimously, codifies the City’s development regulations and sets expectations regarding land use. In February 2007, City Council unanimously approved a resolution proposing an amendment to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter to create the Zoning Code Commission, and providing for the submission of the amendment to the voters of Philadelphia. The measure was overwhelmingly approved by voters, with 80 percent of citizens voting in favor of reforming the City’s Zoning Code.
“I am delighted to sign this once-in-a-generation legislation that makes Philadelphia more attractive to developers, promotes growth, and brings our zoning code into the 21st century,” said Mayor Nutter. “Good planning is our best way to preserve the past and to anticipate the future. This modern code will help Philadelphia, in the years to come, to ensure healthy, sustainable development that protects our neighborhoods and grows our city.”
The new zoning code includes changes to the City’s development regulations and approval procedures such as:
• Making the zoning code more user-friendly;
• Reduced number of zoning classifications;
• Incorporation of a civic design review process; and
• Establishing the role of citizens in the zoning approval process.
In June 2008, Mayor Nutter offered his vision for planning in Philadelphia in the years to come. He returned the Philadelphia City Planning Commission as the authority for broad planning and development-related decisions, established the Design Review Advisory Board to provide guidance to the Planning Commission when evaluating aesthetics, form and community context for proposed projects, placed sustainability as a central factor in evaluating development proposals, and the directed the ZCC to complete the first comprehensive code reform in 35 years. Since then there has been much progress:
• The Planning Commission has adopted the Citywide Vision component of the Philadelphia2035 Comprehensive Plan and initiated the first two of 18 district plans;
• Greenworks Philadelphia, the City’s comprehensive sustainability plan has been released and will reach its midway review in 2012;
• The Office of Property Assessment (OPA) is currently undergoing a city-wide property reassessment process; and
• In 2010, the Planning Commission established the Citizens Planning Institute (CPI), with funding from the William Penn Foundation and Office of Housing and Community Development, to educate Philadelphia residents to become “citizen planners” in their neighborhoods and communities. Since then, 90 Philadelphians have graduated.
“Our new code will help to attract investment to Philadelphia, and will also give our communities an organized means for their thoughts, concerns and input to be considered in the planning process,” said Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger. “This transformative code will prevent many of the road blocks that currently inhibit growth and will make Philadelphia’s development and planning more coherent, consistent and predictable in the future.”
Eva Gladstein, Executive Director of the ZCC, added, “The newly reformed zoning code will be a tool that all Philadelphians can understand and use. The ZCC received tremendous and valuable feedback from citizens that drove this process and is reflected in the final code. The engagement of Philadelphians throughout this process contributed greatly to its success.”