Wednesday, November 14, 2012

City Council Update: Buffer Passes, Complete Streets Tomorrow

Two bills with implications for trails and bicycling are passing through City Council committees this week. Here's an update on the pair:

The Complete Streets Bill
The amended bill will be the first bill discussed in the Streets & Services Committee hearing tomorrow (Thursday, Nov 15th) at 2:00 pm in the City Council Chambers. You can learn more about the bill from these two blog posts. The bill is also gaining extensive press coverage, which we will gather over on the press page of our main website.

The 50' Buffer Bill
Pass bills so we can start building a
better city for bicycling!
The waterfront setback (otherwise known as the "buffer") bill was reported out of committee "with a suspension of rules," which means it was voted on favorably by the committee and will go to the full City Council for a floor vote in a few weeks.

Why did the Bicycle Coalition get involved in this bill? Because it is key to the future of waterfront trails in Philadelphia. The bill makes it more possible that trails can be built along the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers.

After a long summer of negotiations, which intensified over the past two weeks, the bill emerged from the Rules Committee unscathed and intact. There was a danger that an amendment might get introduced to shrink the setback footage, but that language never saw the light of day once the prospect was exposed in the media.

Then, two weeks ago, an amendment was proposed that would have allowed pre-existing structures to expand into buffers and allowed certain "uses" to be built into buffers with no review from City Planning or the Zoning Board of Adjustment. After 15+ different groups objected on October 31st to those amendments, the bill was minimally amended today by allowing only a very limited number of "permitted uses" pertaining to waterfront activities to go into buffers without any review. Pre-existing structures cannot expand into the buffer area.

Councilman Jim Kenney was particularly helpful in strengthening the hand of the environmental/sustainability community over the past several weeks. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown was also a strong proponent. Councilman Bobby Henon, who proposed the first amendment, deserves kudos and thanks for being willing to work out a compromise. Overall, Council's handling of this bill was a good example of it acting in the public interest and withstanding the Development Workshop's attempt to poke holes in the Philadelphia's nascent zoning code.

A special shout-out is due to Andrew Sharp of Penn Future for leading the coalition of organizations that worked on this issue, and to Joe Syrnick of Schuylkill River Development Corporation for being a passionate advocate for the buffer bill and devoting considerable resources to help our coalition succeed.