The New Code: Big Changes for Zoning in Philadelphia (part 5)

by Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP
Contact

Part Five: Dimensional Controls and Parking

Previously, in our Five-Part Series on Philadelphia's New Zoning Code, we provided an Overview, explored changes in Community Involvement and Civic Design Review, outlined new Base Zoning Districts and Overlay Districts, and reviewed the new approach to Use Categories. With less than one week to go before the August 22, 2012 effective date of the New Code, we wrap up our Series with a discussion of the new Dimensional Controls and Parking standards.

Where can I find the New Code? You can find the entire text online here.

Dimensional Controls

Chapter 700 of the New Code retains many of the Old Code's standards for dimensional items such as lot area, set back and height. Some key changes have been made, however, to reduce the number of Variances. For example, the height limit for townhomes is raised from 35' to 38' to better accommodate modern construction. Useful Dimensional Tables provide information at a glance. You will find separate Tables for Lower Density Residential Districts, Higher Density Residential Districts, Commercial Districts and Industrial Districts. Here are some highlights of the New Code's approach to Dimensional Controls:

  • Residential: For the first time, the New Code introduces contextual standards for certain row home Residential Districts (RSA-5 and RM-1), with dimensional controls for a particular property tailored to reflect the existing character of the block where it is located. Contextual standards allow for smaller lots in some cases, require front setbacks to match nearby structures, mandate a 3rd story setback when abutting two-story homes, and set rear-yard depth based on overall lot depth. In the RM-1 District, the Code introduces a new concept of limiting the maximum number of residential units based on lot size.
  • Commercial: The New Code introduces contextual rear-yard depth controls in the CMX-2 and CMX-2.5 neighborhood Commercial Districts. The CMX 2.5 District has a "build-to" requirement to promote pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented neighborhoods. In the higher density Commercial Districts, Floor Area Ratio (FAR) density limits are updated: CMX-3 (500% FAR), CMX-4 (500% FAR), CMX-5 (1200% FAR), and "Super CMX-5" (a specially mapped area in Center City / University City near major transportation nodes) (1600% FAR). Bulk and massing controls in higher density areas are also updated (see "Bulk and Massing Controls," below).
  • Industrial: Generally buildings in Industrial Districts have no height limit, but the New Code imposes a 60' height limit if the property is abutting a Residential or Parks and Open Space (SP-PO) District. Dimensional controls are also updated for open space between structures, and between a structure and lot line.
  • Green Exceptions: As part of an overall goal of encouraging a greener, healthier City, the New Code grants exceptions to certain dimensional standards for environmentally friendly structures such as wind energy conversion devices; solar collectors; green roofs; rain barrels; and composting equipment.

Design and Development Controls

Several big changes are found in the New Code's approach to design standards for various types of buildings, protections for natural resources, updated landscaping and tree requirements, and new controls for walls and fencing:

  • Design Controls: In Part Two of this series, we discussed the new Civic Design Review (CDR) process for certain types of projects. Even if a project is not subject to CDR, however, it may need to comply with modest new design controls. Section 14-703 provides basic standards to promote good urban design (for example, in attached buildings, utility meters must be hidden from view). Design standards for multi-family, commercial and institutional projects include screening of mechanicals and articulation of exterior facades. Professional certification is required to document compliance with the design controls.
  • Natural Resources: Under the Old Code, certain controls were used to protect natural resources in the Wissahickon Watershed. The New Code expands these protections citywide, to protect steep slopes in watersheds from inappropriate development. The Code provides for a 50' buffer from streams identified on a Hydrology Map to be maintained by the Water Department (but requiring City Council approval).
  • Landscape and Tree Standards: The New Code feature enhanced landscaping and tree standards for certain lots larger than 5,000 s.f. The standards require a landscape plan with professional certification, showing trees proposed for removal and replacement trees, with buffering between different types of uses. For the first time, cutting of "heritage trees" (with a diameter at breast height of 24 inches) is prohibited without a Special Exception from the Zoning Board. To obtain a Building Permit, Applicants will need to post a deposit or bond to ensure the required new tree planting. There is also a landscaping maintenance requirement.
  • Fencing, Walls and Lighting: The New Code includes new fencing and wall requirements for Commercial Districts, and outdoor lighting requirements for certain buildings and parking lots, with energy efficiency requirements.

Bulk and Massing Controls

One of the biggest changes in the New Code is the approach to Bulk and Massing controls in the City's higher density Zoning Districts. Under the Old Code, properties in the old C-4 and C-5 Districts could seek more Floor Area Ratio (FAR) density by qualifying for an FAR Bonus. The process was all-or-nothing, however, and many properties could not qualify due to property constraints or other factors.

The New Code adopts an entirely new a-la-carte approach to FAR Bonuses, which will allow more properties – particularly, smaller and odd-shaped properties – to take advantage of Bonuses. And FAR Bonuses will now be available to more Zoning Districts: RMX-3 (up to 100% FAR Bonus); CMX-3 in a Transit-Oriented Development area (up to 300% FAR Bonus); CMX-4 (up to 700% FAR Bonus); CMX-5 (up to 800% FAR); and "Super" CMX-5 (up to 1,000% FAR Bonus). Among the a-la-carte items that can be used to earn FAR Bonuses are some familiar items (Public Art, Public Space, Transit Improvements, and Underground Parking/ Loading), as well as some new items (Mixed Income Housing and LEED-Certified Green Building). The a-la-carte items available for a project vary by Zoning District, and a project can earn FAR Bonuses by providing available Bonus items in any combination.

Regardless of a project's FAR density, the Code also regulates the shape of the building's mass to limit its impact on public access to light and air. Under the Old Code, building mass was primarily regulated through a "wedding cake" standard that permitted smaller and smaller lot coverage at higher elevations. The New Code retains the "wedding cake" standard, but also offers developers a newer, more modern option called "Sky Plane" controls, which are intended to offer more flexibility. The Sky Plane controls are highly technical and require a skilled architect to analyze them and certify that a building will meet the controls.

Parking

The New Code encourages development near transit nodes, promotes walking and cycling, and generally reduces parking requirements in an effort to discourage unnecessary automobile use. Section 800 of the New Code provides convenient Parking Tables that clearly show parking requirements by Use Category and Base District. Some notable Parking changes:

New "preferential parking" rules require certain types of uses to provide at least 5% of parking spaces close to the building for carpool / vanpool parking and for hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles.

The New Code provides more flexibility in meeting parking requirements, offering adjustments for sharing of parking spaces and for reduced-need populations (such as seniors or disabled persons), and proximity to public transit. Credits are available for providing auto-share parking spaces and bicycle parking.

Under the Old Code, mechanized garages (which use automated equipment to park cars much more densely than traditional garages) were prohibited. The New Code changes that, removing the standard dimensional parking requirements for mechanized garages.

Certain garage structures must meet new design standards, requiring 30% of the façade to be non-opaque, and a ground floor ceiling height of at least 10.5' to permit active retail, office, commercial or institutional uses.

Finally, certain surface parking lots must comply with new landscape requirements, which specify a minimum of 10% landscaped area; provide that parking spaces be broken up into smaller clusters of 20 or fewer spaces; and require landscape areas to be at least 6' wide. To add flexibility, however, the New Code also provides that landscaping requirements may be offset by 1 square foot for every square foot of green roof installed on the principal structure on the same lot.

As we bring this Five-Part Series to a close, we thank you for following along, and invite you to contact us at any time. During the transition to the New Code over the next six months or longer, we are all in for a bumpy ride. But rest assured that one thing will not change: We will be here to help you navigate the process, answer questions and find solutions.

Previously:

Part One: An Overview

Part Two: Community Involvement and Civic Design Review

Part Three: Base Districts and Overlays

Part Four: Use Categories

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP
Contact
more
less

Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.