Adopt Modern Zoning

The next mayor and City Council should overhaul Philadelphias outdated zoning code to ensure that new development will preserve the unique features of city neighborhoods while helping them grow and prosper. Zoning shapes our cities. Our zoning code determines what can be built on every parcel of land from a giant billboard to a skyscraper. Zoning also determines how difficult or easy it is to add an addition to a home and even whether a home is legal under the zoning code or whether, like every row home in the entire city, it is classified as a non-conforming use that the code expressly seeks to phase out over time.

Modernize Philadelphias 40-year-old zoning code.

Communities need a zoning code that enforces their community plans and provides clear, predictable rules for what can be built on every parcel. Communities throughout the city are creating detailed community plans in order to influence future development, yet the city does not update zoning to reflect these communities' visions. As a result, the 624-page, 40-year-old zoning document fails to reflect what communities want. By allowing residents to take part in modernizing the code, the city can involve them firsthand in shaping their neighborhoods and defining what development is appropriate, rather than residents having to rush to oppose inappropriate projects, such as the controversial Barnes Tower in Spring Garden.

We also need a zoning code that will protect community-owned pocket parks, gardens, and playgrounds from development pressures. Philadelphia's zoning code does not include zoning protection for parks and open spaces that are not state or city owned. Instead, community land is zoned residential, commercial, or industrial -- whatever the surrounding land is zoned. By giving these neighborhood assets their own open-space zoning designation, the city can protect them from inappropriate development.

We need a modern zoning code that will encourage active housing and retail development near transit hubs. Back in the 1960's, we thought it was important to separate housing and retail from transit stops. Today, we know better. By grouping housing, stores, and jobs near transit hubs, we take cars off the road, allow the 40% of Philadelphians without cars to get to work or do errands conveniently, and create a dynamic hub of activity in each neighborhood.

We need a modern zoning code that provides incentives for high-performing buildings such as the Philadelphia School of the Future and the Comcast Building. Today we know that all buildings are not alike -- some buildings perform better than others. We want to encourage new buildings to use less energy so they won't burden the local electrical grid and less pavement so they won't cause flooding on neighboring properties. In an age of rising energy costs and increased pollution caused by energy usage, it is essential that Philadelphia build smart, high-performing, energy-efficient buildings. And of course the city needs a zoning code that requires developers to reserve a public waterfront, as previously discussed.

By modernizing the code, the new mayor and City Council can create zoning that is predictable and consistently enforced.
This will limit the need for variances and subjective evaluations that change over time. Philadelphia needs to begin a public process through which the people of Philadelphia can modernize their zoning code and decide what is best for their communities and the city as a whole.