Delaware Riverfront Overlay Gets Committee Approval

After almost two years of discussion, Council Wednesday moved forward on a zoning overlay for the Central Delaware riverfront that advocates hope will unlock the area’s unrealized development potential.

The overlay, passed unanimously from Council’s Rules Committee, requires active ground level uses along the waterfront and eight “river access streets” from Dickinson Street in the south to Columbia Avenue in the north; requires 40 percent open area for properties larger than 5,000-square-feet on the waterfront; sets minimum and maximum building heights; and establishes parking garage, curb cut and form and design standards.

The overlay, sponsored by Councilman Mark Squilla, also gives height and floor area “bonuses” that allow developers to exceed the limits if they provide public art, public space, mixed-income housing, transit improvements or do green construction. Height bonuses also can be earned by providing trails, ground floor retail, and dedicating land for the extension of east-west streets toward the waterfront.

Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger said the overlay wasn’t guaranteed to address every development scenario that could arise, “but we need a set of rules to move forward.”

“The market needs to respond to it. The market also needs to adjust to it,” he said. “If it turns out we’re wrong, we’ll be back talking.”

The overlay puts into place components of a Master Plan for the Central Delaware adopted by the Planning Commission in March.

Craig Schelter, executive director of the Development Workshop Inc., urged the committee to hold and make amendments to the bill. Among his concerns, he said the height and floor area bonuses weren’t sufficient, the overlay was “unreasonably large and unwieldy” and the city has “limited public infrastructure funding.”

“Our simple message is that the Central Delaware Overlay continues to be a massive overreach,” he said.

Matt Ruben, chair of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, said the overlay gives the master plan “the teeth it needs” and could “unlock the log jam of stagnation on development.”

“If you believe planning is a legitimate city function … then please support this bill,” he said.

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