by Wesley Ratko

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission voted April 17 to incorporate administrative procedures for new zoning processes – including Civic Design Review and the registry of community organizations (RCOs) – that some members of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Development Review Committee believe threaten its zoning process.

CHCA Community Manager Celeste Hardester told a meeting of the committee that she had attended the planning commission and said the rules were passed without discussion.

This issue of registered community organizations has been of concern to the CHCA for some time. DRC committee members fear that requirements for developers to have one informational meeting with a community organization registered with the city could undermine the civic design review process now in place.

That process is made possible by a practice that requires all zoning applications requiring a variance to obtain the approval of the local civic association. The CHCA has used that leverage to insist that all zoning applicants seeking a variance go through the CHCA zoning process.

A group led by DRC member John Landis met several times with the chair of the city’s Zoning Code Commission last year, urging the inclusion of an amendment that would create a separate designation for community organizations already established.

The proposed amendment was not included in the procedures approved Tuesday.

“Are they ignoring us?” Landis asked rhetorically.

“The convening RCO [designation] is a level of complexity they are not interested in,” Hardester said, referring to the planning commission. “They are trying to simplify the zoning code.”

“The intent of our proposal was to make [the zoning code] more useful,” Landis said.

Hardester said RCOs are defined by their established territorial boundaries.

“I think as long as a developer is interested in going through our process, certainly there’s nothing that I’m aware of that says that can’t happen,” Hardester said. “They can go on whatever schedule they choose to.”

Hardester added that the shortened process could mean that any input from Chestnut Hill would have to occur within 45 days instead of the current schedule.

“Now we’re in competition with an RCO,” Landis added, “and I think that our fear is that there might be these … less conscientious RCOs, and the developers might choose to go through them and take that to the ZBA.”

According to Hardester, the city’s Department of Records will now make the regulations available for 30 days and give public notice in newspapers. If no hearing is requested, the regulations will become effective after 30 days. If a hearing is requested, the regulations become effective 10 days after a report of the hearing is filed.