CITY COUNCIL held a fiery debate over efforts to revive Philadelphia's local shopping strips Tuesday, arguing over measures that would return the new zoning code to its old ways by limiting the businesses permitted in neighborhood commercial corridors.
The bills sponsored by Councilman Brian O'Neill restrict businesses like personal-care homes, animal services and community gardens, and require zoning-board approval or a council ordinance for others, including delis, ice-cream parlors, art studios and transit stations - as it did under the old code.
"Part of the zoning code said we will not harm those neighborhoods," O'Neill said. "Where neighborhoods want more restaurants, etc., that should be mapped and done through meetings with the planning commission and the district council person."
Council members Marian Tasco and Cindy Bass supported the bill and said that some of the permitted uses under the new code are not businesses that residents in their districts would want.
The Nutter administration strongly opposes the changes. Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development, said that the changes "will create unnecessary obstacles for small businesses" and "will force many new business owners to take a trip to the Zoning Board, resulting in costly delays with uncertain outcomes."
Greenberger said that Council should wait the recommended year before making changes to the four-month-old code. Some Council members argued against the changes, saying that the city needs to grow its commercial corridors.
"We want the commercial corridors to be more vibrant," said Councilman at large Wilson Goode Jr. "We want to draw people from around the city and in some cases come from outside the city."
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez said that she had serious concerns over restrictions.
"This would be detrimental to my community-planning process and to my community," she said.
Several different community groups spoke out against the bills.
"These bills make changes that are directly counter to results of our neighborhood-planning processes," said Henry Pyatt, with the New Kensington Community Development Corp.
"We don't need to restrict it," he said of art studios. "We need to put it out in the front for everyone to patronize."
Council is working on changes to the bills, and a committee hearing will reconvene Dec. 13.
Meanwhile, the committee OK'd bills sponsored by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell to increase notice requirements for zoning applications to registered community organizations, business owners and other nearby residents. Another bill from Blackwell would allow each district council person to determine the number of meetings that local registered community organizations have with zoning applicants.