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City Council Committee approves zoning changes for Old City

5/17/2013 | Real Estate Blog

Philadelphia’s Old City is a special place for Philadelphians. Home to numerous historical sites, the district occupies several blocks between Front and Sixth Streets, bound by Vine and Walnut. The District is among the city’s most popular nightlife destinations, with numerous lounges, restaurants and dive bars.

The popularity of Old City among developers is underlined by the recent disbanding of the Old City Civic Association. Founded in 1973, the organization sought to prevent new liquor licenses and tone down the scale of new development in Old City. The organization reportedly disbanded because it could no longer afford costs, having been sued by developers repeatedly over the years. 

For developers, Old City is appealing, but presents certain challenges.  Current zoning regulations for Old City impose a 65-foot height limit and other limits on the density of properties. The purpose of those restrictions is to maintain the feel of the neighborhood, to maintain a feel of open light and air, and keep the bridges in sight.

Developers, however, say that those limits make it challenging to develop the area neighboring the Ben Franklin Bridge. In practice, the height limits force builders to construct buildings that are below the bridge structure, which is not particularly appealing to residents.

Earlier this week, a City Council committee agreed to changes that raise the height limit and soften density requirements in the area from I-95 to 4thStreet, and from New Street to Race Street.

There was only one objection to the changes, from Jim Kenney, who said that the changes would change the unique character of Old City.

The approved bill is set to go to the full Council for a vote.

Source: CBS Philly, “Phila. Lawmakers Move Old City Zoning Changes Forward,” Mike Dunn, May 14, 2013.