Should new 3-story houses be banned on 2-story blocks?

A new bill to amend the zoning code to preserve a uniform “cornice line” on rowhouse blocks was introduced last week in City Council. The bill would prevent developers from building three-story houses if more than 50 percent of the block is only two-story houses, says Plan Philly.

Pic via Plan Philly.
Pic via Plan Philly.

Currently, the zoning code allows going up to 38 feet for a third story as long as it’s set eight feet back from the cornice line of neighboring, shorter houses. The bill, introduced Thursday by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, would eliminate that allowance altogether.

West Philly’s Blackwell previously tinkered with the zoning code almost immediately after a revised version of it was passed last September, adding requirements of registered community organizations that were mostly overturned by another bill last month.

Now, she’s got her sights set on three-story homes. So, what do you think? Do those houses with three-story setbacks look strange? Should they be allowed at all?

13 thoughts on “Should new 3-story houses be banned on 2-story blocks?

  • February 11, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Now why would Jannie Blackwell be concerned with 2-vs-3 story row homes? Has there been a flury of 3rd floor additions in Mantua?? Who does this benefit? Looking at you K.J.
    Yeah. Blackwell introduces the legislation, so you don’t get the heat. So, Kenyatta, what do you now owe Jannie??

  • February 11, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Perfect way to slow growth and development. Same issues were happening in Grays Ferry where residents were complaining about 3 story house.

  • February 11, 2014 at 10:05 am

    I can’t even believe that Ms. Blackwell has the audacity to suggest that Philadelphia residents should not have the opportunity to expand their homes (especially when the plans have to go before a zoning committee). Her views are short-sighted when juxtaposed against the facts that many Philadelphia neighborhoods, including South Philadelphia, are seeing rising property values and currently attracting young buyers–potential long-term residents who are community-minded and looking to invest in improvement. I am truly baffled by the backwards idea that limiting expansion to avoid potentially unsightly additions would be better for our city than allowing families the opportunity to settle and grow. I have no idea what Ms. Blackwell presumes will occur if she gets her way, but I have an inkling that it has little to do with what’s actually good for our residents.

    Of course, maybe I don’t fully understand? Should we just draft an “Anti-Shantytown” bill that allows for third floor additions?

    • February 11, 2014 at 10:43 am

      Jannie wants to slow growth in Philadelphia so the yuppies with smarts and money don’t move into her neighborhood and vote her out for her complete incompetence. That’s all this is.

  • February 11, 2014 at 11:02 am

    Bad idea. Agree with everyone who says that if our ultimate goal as a society is to get people to move back into more densely populated area, we have to concede that people want more space than folks wanted/used when many of the two-story homes were built. I’d rather have people move into new three-story homes than choose McMansions on half-acre green fields just because they couldn’t get the space they wanted in the city. And I’d rather have families who currently live in the city be able to expand upward when their families get bigger than have to move out for more space. Building up is more environmentally sustainable.

    Also, my major problem with the home pictured at the top of this article is that they didn’t put out just a little extra to design and build something that matched the existing facade. If they had gotten rid of the existing cornice line and continued the brick facade to the top with a new cornice at the top, they may have been able to make it look like it had always been that way. I don’t find it that bad at all for it to stick out from between the houses on either side.

  • February 11, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    I support the Idea, These 3 story editions make the blocks look sloppy most are very cheap like the one shown in the pic and ruin the look of the block, most do not even try to blend in. There is a home I know of in Packer Park with a cheap addition right in the middle of the block which makes it look ghetto.

  • February 11, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Does anyone know if this will also apply to building roof decks?

  • February 11, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    The best/worst example of this is whatever the hell is resting on top of Mama Maria’s. I’m not sure it’s even attached to the actual building.

    That said, Blackwell is an idiot.

  • February 11, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    When the additions are 8 feet back from the front of the house, they are hardly noticeable. There are a few on Juniper St set 8 feet back, and they do not disrupt the look of the block in any way. I agree, Blackwell is an idiot.

    • February 12, 2014 at 8:31 am

      The only problem with having an across-the-board 8-ft setback is that on smaller/shallower lots, that 8-feet is pretty significant. My house is only approximately 30-ft deep. A setback of 8 feet would reduce the potential addition by 25% which could easily make the costs (per sf) unreasonable.

      For a deeper house with depth to burn, it would be much less of an issue.

      While I think good design should be employed on 3rd floor additions to blend well with the existing building and the blockface/cornice line, I don’t think an across the board restriction or mandatory 8-ft setback are reasonable. Updating out of date housing stock should be considered in the writing/interpretation of the zoning code.

  • February 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    This isn’t even worth debating. The whole thing a political charade aimed at keeping certain people out of certain neighborhoods. The people of the 2nd District better make damn sure Kenyatta gets voted out.

    Though, @Jim, I guess if I can’t add on to my current 2 story home I’ll just have to cut it up into apartments. Have fun with that scenario.

  • February 12, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    The idea of severely restricting what people can do with their property is a terrible idea. I don’t think that third story additions on blocks of mostly two story buildings look bad. ( should a two story house be banned on a block with mostly 3 story houses?) On blocks that have no trees, should we ban trees? In any case, I don’t think city council has a place legislating aesthetics.

    Change is constant in all things. What is bad is decaying, underused and abandoned buildings and neighborhoods, where people have left because the place doesn’t suit their needs anymore

  • February 13, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I live on a historic block of 2story 1863 houses and no zoning variances were required for someone to build an ugly 3rd story on their house in the middle of the block. No neighbors knew about this until the construction crew showed up. hat just is not right. I support Ms Blackwell

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