Thursday, September 3, 2015

Lowlights of the zoning code

The city's zoning code hasn't been rewritten for more than 50 years, meaning that we have a lot of outdated — and wacky — rules. City Council is currently debating a massive overhaul of the zoning code, which it could vote on this fall. Read all about the complicated, controversial issues surrounding the debate here.

Lowlights of the zoning code

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Under the city´s current zoning code, manufacturing gnocchi in certain neighborhoods is technically illegal.
Under the city's current zoning code, manufacturing gnocchi in certain neighborhoods is technically illegal.

The city's zoning code hasn't been rewritten for more than 50 years, meaning that we have a lot of outdated — and wacky — rules. City Council is currently debating a massive overhaul of the zoning code, which it could vote on this fall. Read all about the complicated, controversial issues surrounding the debate here.

Lucky for you, we also put together a list of the lowlights of the current zoning code:

Pasta prohibition: Spaghetti, macaroni, vermicelli and ravioli can be manufactured in the city's industrial areas, including parts of Kensington and Germantown. But making other pastas there, like fettuccine and gnocchi, is illegal.

Alan Greenberger, executive director of the City Planning Commission, said that this is because the code was written before the word "pasta" was part of our everyday language, and anything that isn't exactly spelled out in the code is technically banned. He remarked that the code being anti-fettuccine is "just dumb."

Billiard blackball: Pool halls are a no-no in many parts of the city and can't go anywhere near hotels, clothing stores or the Convention Center.

The same goes for tattoo parlors. Why? "Pool rooms meant trouble in years past," explained zoning attorney Carl Primavera. "And tattoo parlors were once seen as really skeevy places where sailors went and spread disease."

ATM atrophy: ATMs, self-storage units, community gardens and many other common features of modern life are not mentioned in the 50-year-old zoning code.

That means that developers have to spend a lot of time and money getting the city's approval to install them.

Makeup morass: In several shopping areas in Center City, cosmetic stores are banned. High-end stores like Sephora and MAC Cosmetics have been forced to fight the city to move onto these busy commercial streets.

Home-office hindrance: Unless you're a doctor, minister, lawyer, psychologist or architect, you're not allowed to work in a home office in many residential neighborhoods. Officials said that this can lead to those professionals' dodging the law and the city missing out on fees from zoning permits or business-privilege licenses - and can also discourage business. "The majority of small businesses start in a person's garage or house," says Karen Black, a consultant and zoning-reform advocate. "Philly needs jobs really badly, and if a business can start at home rent-free, it has a much better chance of being successful."

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