To Whoever At The City Ordered Censorship, We Say FUCK YOU

Intrigue over Darell Clarke and O’Neill’s bill to rewind the zoning code caused a post over at Philadelphia Planeto to be poofed, which questioned the bill

Over at Philadelphia Planeto, a blog that is run by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC), this blog post appeared criticizing Councilman O’Neill’s bill introduced on behalf of Councilman Clarke to fuck with the City’s zoning code and start canceling the reform that was just implemented August 22nd.

The blog post was cited by the Inquirer (here) for how sarcastic it was, providing a rare glimpse at what city planners really thought of City Council’s pending action to force off-street parking requirements on to buildings that have no room for off-street parking.

Essentially, Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilman O’Neill, two of the longest-serving members of City Council, want to go back to the old-school process of having everything under the sun go through a zoning variance.   Since this is being pushed by the President of City Council, the rest of City Council is likely to follow along in lockstep like good little soldiers.

So, whichever dickless manager at the City decided to kill the blog post, I give you a massive ‘fuck you’ and I’m reposting it here for everyone to read.   Thank you Google Cache for saving it from oblivion.

Read the post for yourself, after the jump.

Thank Goodness Thursdays: Sarcastic Zoning Code Edition


On this Thursday after a long weekend of some turbulence, we take the time to say Thank Goodness everyone’s taking the time to really let the new zoning code sink in and show its true colors so that we can make informed decisions about what aspects to tweak in the future. NOT. Psych. JK.

No, that’s not what’s happening at all, ladies and gentlemen, and we are not thanking anyone right about now, except for those diligent reporters and bloggers above that have invested hours, days, weeks of their lives understanding these issues and dutifully sharing our progress – and steps back – with the public. We only wish these stories could have broken a week earlier, and we fault ourselves for not leading the charge to use this blog for one of its best potential purposes, namely, educating the public proactively about policy and the ways that it can get implemented, shot down, enhanced, destroyed, etc.

The issue that grinds our gears on this particular day doesn’t sound like much. It would probably put a lot of people to sleep, which is maybe one of the reasons it managed to slip so thoroughly undetected through the legislative docket. It’s the bill that “raises the minimum lot area for dwelling units” in certain zoning districts, and “adjusts parking requirements” in those same districts. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Well, it is not. It’s a reversal of one of the most fundamental improvements to the zoning code so early in this supposed age of reform that we don’t have a significant sample of projects to say anything definitive about how great or disastrous the new rules are  were. What’s our beef with the bill? Several:

  • It’s a variance-generator: remember how our ZBA takes more cases per capita than any other on record? Remember how a central goal of the reform process was to standardize certain things so that we could avoid over burdening the ZBA with cases based on outdated rules, thereby increasing the amount of by-right development and accelerating the rate of infill development and revitalization? Well, by placing unrealistic dimensional and parking requirements onto some fairly ubiquitous zoning districts (RM-1, CMX-2), we pretty much guarantee seeing a lot of these cases head straight back to the ZBA, adding time, cost, and unnecessary opportunity for controversy on projects that are good neighbors and follow logical rules. Here’s an example: Developer X owns a three story building zoned CMX-2, which allows for ground floor commercial and residential above. X wants to put two apartments on each of the upper floors, for a total of 4. With this bill passed, 4 units triggers a 3/10 parking ratio requirement, which means X needs two on-site parking spots (we have to round up, not down). The developer’s options:1) eliminate the street-activating and revenue-generating groundfloor business to provide the parking;2) tear down the building and build a new one that somehow fits two parking spaces;

    3) hope that the lot happens to be abnormally wide, with a driveway back to two concealed parking spaces in the rear

    4) receive a refusal from L&I for not meeting the parking requirement, and end up waiting in the ZBA backlog to defend their choice of not putting in parking because they never had to before, and most of Philadelphia’s parcel-size and spatial realities don’t allow it.

    We don’t love Option 4 either, but we guarantee it’s more likely than numbers 1-3.

  • It’s bad transportation planning:  Providing more off-street parking does not reduce congestion. It adds to it, because it creates more parking supply, which allows more cars, which means that many more cars on the road. It also does not typically result in a net gain of parking spaces in a neighborhood, since the driveways and curbcuts required to access this parking eliminate an on-street space. And finally – and this is more variable by neighborhood – there are many places in Philadelphia where “we” (policy makers) should want to be building housing that appeals to an emerging generation of americans that is decreasingly interested in owning a car. Also, “we” (speaking as the developers we are not and could never be) want to build this kind of product, because we know there’s a demand for it, and that it’s less costly for us to do without parking in a lot of cases. But, hey, don’t listen to the people that build projects or the people who are paid to have professional opinions – informed by actual expertise and knowledge of data on these subjects, we might add – in these topics.
  • Words of wisdom: Let It Be. One of the many unofficial truisms that got thrown around a lot as the zoning code’s passage seemed iffy towards the end of last year was that it was most important to get it, something, almost anything, past. With a new code on the books, we could take a 12-month period to actually evaluate whether all of our fancy changes did us any good. Perhaps this was a gentleman’s agreement, or just something people said to calm other people down, but we were really looking forward to it. We were looking forward to it cause we wanted to move on. Not permanently from the act of rewriting the regulations; we know there are problems hidden in there, and we are very open to revisiting them after we’ve had a year of cases that prove or disprove the logic of them. This is a good year for it, too. Philly is kind of killing it on the development front these days. We’re likely to generate a nice pool happy/sad/relieved/frustrated/furious developers between now and the end of 2013 who could show us real-live examples of why something helped or hindered their process; real-live examples of RCO’s scheduling meetings and attending CDR meetings and getting something – or not – out of them. We won’t even get started on the RCO stuff, but it’s another example of trying to fix something deemed broken without even knowing what it’s supposed to look like.

“So what’s to be done about all this”, you ask.

“How very nice of you to ask,” we say in return.

“Of course,” say you, “you guys (and gals) are the professional planners that work on behalf of the city. Seems like you guys (and gals) would have some pretty valuable experience and background about all this. We wonder why elected officials and their constituents wouldn’t want to base their land use policy and transportation decisions on the professional opinions of staff who’ve studied land use policy and transportation.”

“I know that’s right,” say we.

But seriously, what are we saying should be done here? Well, since we asked ourselves, our answer is that we’d love to see some official motion to stop. messing. with. the. code. for a defined period of time, once these “clean up” amendments are over and done. Seriously, Philadelphia, what’s the use of 4 – going on 5 – years of trying to change something if we immediately start inching back towards what we had before. We’re asking to everyone up and down the decision-making ladder and across the sea of registered community organizations to take a deep breath and have a little faith in the code. Anyone else with us on this, that we should give it a year to just simmer and see where we stand? Give us that, and we promise we’ll listen to every comment, every reaction, compile lots of case studies and data points, and come up with rational recommendations for how to make it better. If you like this idea, then pick up the phone, call your Council person, and tell them you’d actually like to experience the Zoning Code before we amend it into its ugly stepchild. Ok, don’t use those words. But it’d be great to get that message out, that we believe in the reforms we’ve made, at least enough to see them play out in real life and react in an evidence-based way. We’d say THANK GOODNESS for that.

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