Zoning forum offers food for thought

Posted: September 21, 2011

THERE THEY sat, the well-worn faces of the city's ongoing efforts to overhaul its outdated zoning code: Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger and City Councilmen Frank DiCicco, Bill Green and Darrell Clarke.

They were lined up on a small stage in the Daily News/Inquirer building last night for a public forum on zoning, attended by dozens of people who were hungry for information on a proposed new code - or, perhaps, for the sandwiches and cookies that were offered before the forum started.

Either way, those in attendance got a healthy overview of this vital, complicated issue.

Greenberger patiently retraced the history of the city's current, maddening code - last updated 50 years ago - as well as the creation four years ago of the reform-minded Zoning Code Commission, which he chairs.

DiCicco, an early advocate of revamping the code, made a familiar pitch: Council must vote on the new code now, before he and six other veteran Council members leave office at the end of the year, or watch the effort rot on the vine for 10 more years.

Green and Clarke disputed the idea that zoning reform couldn't be accomplished with new Council members.

"I don't feel any pressure to do that," Clarke said of passing the new code before the end of the year, adding that he's more interested in getting the code right.

Clarke, whose 5th District stretches from Strawberry Mansion to Fishtown to Center City, noted that he's not comfortable with the idea of implementing a new code without first remapping the city.

Green, who has long complained about the need to remap the city before implementing the new code, once again said that he wants to see the new code passed.

He was quick to add, however, that Council has a list of "12 to 15 issues" that it needs to work through with the Zoning Code Commission.

"It's an impossible task to get a code that's perfect," DiCicco said at one point, looking exasperated.

It would be better to pass the new code, he said, and make amendments to it as issues arise over time.

The mind-numbing back-and-forth was broken up when audience member Madeline Shikomba, a resident of Southwest Center City, rattled off a list of questions that ended with: "And how come you didn't answer my email?"

Laughter echoed through the crowd as DiCicco, Green and Clarke traded mock nervous glances.

After the forum, hosted by the People's Paper in conjunction with Penn Praxis and Plan Philly, came to a close, ZCC Executive Director Eva Gladstein said that she was still optimistic that the code could get voted on before the end of the year.

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