Come Dec. 15, Philadelphia is likely to have a new zoning code that dictates building and development in the city, from skyscrapers to home offices - a day some predicted would never come.
City Council gave preliminary approval to the draft code on Wednesday after a lengthy hearing that served mostly as a coronation for the four-year zoning reform effort.
That sets up a final vote on Dec. 15 - the last Council session before six members leave at the end of the year.
Council and the Zoning Code Commission, which drafted the code, negotiated for months to allay fears about how the new rules would play out in city neighborhoods.
On Wednesday, a number of community and neighborhood groups, as well as trade groups representing builders, architects, and others, applauded the draft code and urged its passage.
"When we set out, I never believed we'd have a perfect document. There is no such thing as a perfect document," said Councilman Frank DiCicco, who helped kick-start the reform effort after being overwhelmed by development pressures - and community push-back - in his district, which covers Center City, South Philadelphia, and the Delaware River waterfront.
"I think that this is going to be a huge step in continuing to move the city of Philadelphia forward," DiCicco said.
The code nonetheless won't go into effect for eight months, a grace period during which more changes and tweaks can be made, said Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, who chaired the voter-created Zoning Code Commission.
"Then you got to let it go and see how it goes," he said. "If there are mistakes, if we've miscalculated, then we're going to amend. It's kind of a rolling process."
Council also plans to hold a hearing a year after the code goes into effect to gather feedback about problems or unintended consequences.
The goal of the reform effort has been to update the city's antiquated zoning in order to make building and development more predictable, while also preserving the character of the neighborhoods.
Under the current code, 40 percent of all projects must seek a variance, a cumbersome process that often scares away outside investors and stymies those willing to build here - what Mayor Nutter and many others regard as a historic flaw in the city's economy.
The new code, ideally, would so clearly define what can be built, and where, that few variances would be needed. The hope is that a clear code - and a speedier permitting process - would spur development.
With the reform, however, comes another years-long effort to remap the city to conform to the code. Councilman Bill Green said that much of the city was "miszoned given today's world and market demands," and that updating the maps was what would truly foster development.
In that process, he noted, abandoned factory districts could be changed from industrial to residential or mixed use, opening those areas for investment.
"I think it's important that we all recognize . . . that the new zoning code is a significant achievement," Green said at the hearing. "But it's the beginning and not the end of the process that will make this a city to build in."
Or, as Greenberger said, "We'll have our code on the 15th . . .. Then we'll have a lot more work to do."