February 23, 2010
By Kellie Patrick Gates
A zoning proposal that would eliminate height restrictions on seven blocks of the Central Delaware is on its way to city council.
The legislation, introduced by First District Councilman Frank DiCicco, amends the Central Delaware Overlay, a temporary zoning measure designed to protect the waterfront from development that goes counter to the city's long-range goals until a master plan and associated zoning are in place. The amendment also gives the city planning commission an extra two months to develop the guidelines that will govern the implementation of the overlay.
On Tuesday, city council's rules committee voted unanimously to send the bill on to full council, as the planning commission recommended last week. (http://planphilly.com/pcpc-oks-overlay-height-controls)
This step was taken despite objections raised by the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, whose mission it is to lobby city government to stick close to the tenets of the Vision for the Central Delaware, a document that lays out the hopes of city residents for the waterfront, based on more than a year of public input. The city has told the consultants working on the master plan to use the vision as a guide.
CDAG members discussed the proposal at their meeting last month. (http://planphilly.com/amendment-height-would-benefit-wtc) Society Hill resident Paul Boni, who is also the attorney for Casino-Free Philadelphia, was at the meeting to discuss the guidelines for the implementation of the overlay. But he also said he was concerned about how the height restriction changes in the amendment might impact the CED classification, if CED were not specifically exempted from the change.
He has since prepared an analysis.
In his testimony during the meeting, Kramer said the purpose of removing the height restriction where the Old City special district overlaps the Central Delaware Overlay – the area between Wood Street, Spring Garden Street, Christopher Columbus Boulevard and Interstate 95 - “serves to provide consistency throughout the Central Delaware Riverfront Overlay area.”
DiCicco has previously said that the intent has always been to encourage dense development in some portions of the Central Delaware, and this backs that up.
The bill would also potentially benefit those who want to develop the Philadelphia World Trade Center. Those parties have said in the past they were stymied by the height restriction. DiCicco, Mayor Michael Nutter and other city officials, along with some waterfront neighborhood associations, were named in a 2007 lawsuit filed by Waterfront Renaissance Associates, the partnership that wants to build the World Trade Center. In October of 2009, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the city and the developer were in settlement negotiations, the crux of which were that the World Trade Center would be exempt from the 65-foot height restriction.
Craig Schelter spoke at Tuesday's hearing on behalf of the Development Workshop Inc., a non-profit he co-founded to promote development-friendly policies in Philadelphia. He asked the committee to pass the proposal.
Schelter said the height controls appropriate for most of the Old City special district are not appropriate for the waterfront. Schelter, CDAG, Boni and others pushed the planning commission to request a two-month extension before adopting guidelines for the implementation of the overlay. The commission was set to adopt guidelines at an earlier meeting, but critics did not think those guidelines were detailed enough. The commission has since been seeking input from those critics about what should be included.