Zoning. Yes, it’s boring, but it’s also important, and last week City Council passed changes that actually could make a difference in your neck of the woods (everywhere).
Plan Philly did a good job of summing up the bill on registered community organizations (generally, your civic association) that was passed Thursday:
In short, the bill requires RCOs to re-register every two years (it was yearly in the original code, every three years under [Councilwoman Jannie] Blackwell’s bill), puts the burden of notification for projects needing zoning approval on developers, and requires that RCOs have regularly scheduled meetings open to the public, among other criteria.
That part in bold is what has zoning chairs breathing a sigh of relief. Blackwell’s amendment to the zoning code, passed in August, required RCOs to distribute fliers to all neighbors of all the blocks adjacent to each zoning variance requested. That meant paying for potentially hundreds of fliers a month and getting volunteers to pass them out.
It was, to paraphrase one zoning committee member, a huge pain in the ass. Now, developers have to be the ones responsible for notifying neighbors. Here’s what a sampling of a couple zoning folks had to say about the changes (slightly edited):
“Thrilled. It’s not perfect, and I understand that some people are concerned about the effects. I’m confident, however, that this bill will strengthen community groups’ ability to be heard and ensure that zoning applicants aren’t unnecessarily burdened. It’s a great compromise bill, and I’m proud of everyone in the Planning Commission, the Mayor’s Office, Council, and RCOs who worked so hard on it.”
– David Goldfarb, East Passyunk Crossing civc’s zoning chair.
“In general I am a fan of it. I like placing the onus of notification solely upon the applicant and I like the qualifying criteria for RCOs. I think it leaves enough room in the process for non-RCOs. What I am afraid of though is the concept of a Coordinating RCO. With the politics and turbulent history of some of us Point Breeze groups, I can imagine that process will ruffle some feathers.”
– Joe Suchma, Interim president of Newbold Neighbors Association
“This legislation is, for the most part, a step in the right direction and we are entirely supportive of Council’s commitment to reintroduce a basic set of standards to guide organizations that wish to represent their communities on zoning matters.”
– Greg Lugones, zoning chair of South of South Neighborhood Association
“Phew. Blackwell’s bill gutted the whole process and reverted back to the status quo. The new bill is more in line the way the reform commission (myself included) intended.”
– Todd Schwartz, Lower Moyamensing Civic Association zoning chair.
“I support the passage of the Henon bill as a return to a saner approach. I think the notification guidelines are still onerous (a small addition on the back of a house does not warrant notification of a property owner across the street and two blocks away), but putting the notification burden on the applicant at least relieves the RCO of what had become an expensive and time-consuming chore. Any changes to this new RCO system needs to recognize that one size does not fit all, and that while standards are important, they must be vetted to avoid unintended consequences for those of us who have had this under control for a long time.”
– Mike Hauptman, chair, Queen Village Neighbors Association zoning committee
For more information on requirements for RCOs, check out this fact sheet prepared by the city.