Philadelphia voters could radically change urban zoning plan (voting question)

Should the city council have an influence on who is on the regulatory council? And should it be bigger with certain types of people on?

Construction on Passyunk Square, 2019
Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

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The first charter change issue for Philadelphia residents at the ballot in May 2022 is probably the most controversial.

It is centered on the Zoning Board of Adjustments, which makes decisions about what proposed developments will be built across the city.

If approved, the measure will, among other things, give the city council greater influence over who makes up this board.

Should the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to revise the composition of the Zoning Board of Adjustment by increasing the number of mayoral appointees from five to seven; by demanding the Council’s confirmation of the mayor’s appointments; and by specifying qualifications that the nominee must possess, including a demonstrated sensitivity to society’s concerns regarding the development and protection of the character of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods?

The Zoning Board of Adjustment is a five-member independent commission within the Philadelphia Dept. of Planning and Development.

The board hears appeals from individuals or companies looking for a zoning deviation because they want to develop land or property in ways that do not comply with existing city codes, whether it is due to the size, scale, use, parking distribution, signage or conditions of the building. . to the environment. Appeals also come to the ZBA when the Licensing and Inspections Department denies a zone permit or issues other zone-related violations.

ZBA decisions are legally binding and can only be overturned in the courts. The board rarely rejects appeals, as WHYY’s PlanPhilly has reported, and approves the vast majority of waiver requests that come to a hearing.

This ballot question, stemming from legislation introduced last fall by Council President Darrell Clarke, would change the composition of the board.

Two of the proposed changes are quite self-explanatory. The number of members appointed by the mayor would increase from 5 to 7 – and each member would have to be confirmed by the city council.

The second change is to add specific qualifications for the nominee.

What qualifications? The voting issue does not specify, but the Council resolution supporting it says that the board should include:

  • a city planner
  • an architect
  • a lawyer with zone experience
  • a person with experience in the construction industry
  • at least two recognized leaders from community organizations

Board members would also need to “have shown sensitivity to the community’s concerns regarding the development and protection of the character of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.”

This is not entirely a voluntary position: ZBA members are expected to attend several meetings per week and are paid $ 100 per person. meeting with a ceiling of $ 22k per. year.

If the referendum goes through, the changes will take effect on October 1st. At that time, the existing members of the Management Board will remain on the Management Board until they are reappointed or replaced by persons approved by the Council.

Who is for it

  • Council President Darrell Clarke drafted the bill, and it was co-sponsored by eight other council members. It adopted unanimously in December.
  • Neighboring associations and civic group members have given mixed feedback on the bill, but like best the idea of ​​giving the neighborhoods more influence on zoning issues.

Who is against it

  • The Kenney administration was against this bill. Mayor Jim Kenney has said the measure could put a damper on developments.
  • As the bill was being considered by the Council, Urban Planning Director Anne Fadullon said the measure could create delays in ZBA work as it would require four sitting members to make decisions. She also said professionalization of board seats could make conflicts of interest and denials more likely.
  • The Building Industry Association of Philadelphia said in November that they were “keeping a close eye” on what would happen to this bill. The association’s treasurer Mo Rushdy believes that this is part of a larger effort to slow down development.

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