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Zoning reform: Not a waste!

It looks as though nearly $2 million in taxpayer money, four years of work and dozens of public meetings won't be wasted after all.

For a while, it looked as if City Council might ignore the work of the Zoning Code Commission, which threw all those resources into rewriting Philadelphia's 50-year-old zoning code. The code lays down the law about development in the city.

But a bill that would enact the ZCC's new code got committee-level approval yesterday. It is expected to pass next week and would go into effect in August.

In 2007, voters approved a ballot measure calling on the city to rewrite the code, which critics said was outdated and poisonous to the city's economy.

Supporters of the new code testified yesterday that it would reduce undue burdens on builders, while empowering communities through a civic-engagement process.

"This is a code that will encourage developers to bring their visions to Philadelphia," said architect Elizabeth Masters.

Other proponents, like David Feldman, president of real-estate development firm Right-Sized Homes, praised the city for seeking input from community members while drafting the code.

"This is an example of city government operating at its best," he said.

Those who testified also said the new code would support urban agriculture, transit-oriented development, affordable housing and "green" buildings.

But the new code does not lack controversy.

Tiffany Green, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze, said that under the code, new three-story developments should not be allowed in neighborhoods made up of two-story buildings.

"You cannot go around giving benefits to outsiders and developers and not care for Philadelphians first," she said.

Councilman Bill Green said the code "goes a long way to address this problem." He said a new three-story development next to two-story homes would have to be pushed back several feet. He noted that under the current code, those three-story developments are allowed without any restrictions.

Councilwoman Marian Tasco called the three-story developments "very ugly" and said she might have to address the issue in the future.

Other critics said the new code did not support affordable housing and stripped residents of their power to fight unwanted development.

Yesterday's hearing felt like a wrap-up session. Many of the people who critiqued the new code had testified in front of officials before — often several times — and some of their recommendations had been incorporated.

Whether or not you like the new code, it's hard to argue that the public didn't get a chance to weigh in.

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