Society Hill ready to support smart green initiatives

Is Society Hill against green initiatives? Of course not. Just to name two, Society Hill favors green roofs and supports increasing the use of electric vehicles in Philadelphia. However, local policies that try to support these two environmental initiatives are not the best way to go green.

Society Hill has received an exemption for the green roof density bonus offered to developers under the Philadelphia Zoning Code. Why is that?

First, let's be clear, when the zoning code went through a comprehensive reform in 2012, it included specific density limits that were deemed appropriate for every neighborhood. It made no sense for City Council, in a 2015 amendment, to compensate developers with extra density if they included a green roof. Why allow more density than was deemed appropriate? Why should extra density be the incentive? For these reasons, almost every civic organization in the downtown area and beyond opposed the enactment of the green roof density bonus. Still, it was enacted, with the support of the developers' lobby.

Society Hill is a small neighborhood and is largely already developed. Here, developers aren't building small units; they are building extra-large units. Indeed, we keep supporting, and the city keeps approving, projects in Society Hill with a large numbers of units - and the developers keep decreasing the number of units to meet the customers' demands.

At the Toll Brothers development on Headhouse Square, the developer ended up using less density than allowed by the zoning code. And at the new 500 Walnut high-rise in our district, we supported the developer's original request to build 84 condo units, but he ended up having only 35 units (without any change in the size of the building).

Developers simply aren't using the green roof bonus for its intended result. Instead, they are using it as a threat. They try to gin up fear to get support for something much bigger than would be allowed without a variance, or worse, by spot zoning. Certainly that's not the intention of the policy.

How else could you encourage green roofs?

Many places around the world are moving toward making green roofs mandatory. For example, cities like San Francisco and Toronto and whole countries like France require that roofs on new commercial construction be green or have solar panels, or some combination. Here in Philadelphia, the city has a program that gives developers a tax credit of 50 percent of the cost of a green roof, up to $100,000. We wonder why this tax credit should not be enough of an incentive to go green.

Society Hill also supported recent legislation that puts a moratorium on the current system of giving permanent dedicated on-street parking spaces to owners of electric vehicles. There was some criticism for our position. However, as a result of this legislation, Mayor Kenney has committed city resources - for the first time - to assist City Council in creating a public EV charging infrastructure. This is a win for Philadelphia, because this infrastructure, which does not exist at this time, will push Philadelphia into the next phase of a clean energy future.

Getting a charging system available to the general public will encourage significantly more electric vehicle ownership than is the case with the current program. The current program, now suspended, gives a particular EV owner a permanent dedicated on-street parking space in front of their home for $50 a year. That permit holder is the only one who has access to the charging station. We don't think this is the way to go about getting lots of electric vehicle usage in Philadelphia.

In Society Hill, we have about a dozen of these charging stations - some blocks have up to three privately controlled charging stations. But a dozen charging stations only support the charging of a dozen cars. If Society Hill had a dozen public charging stations, they could support the charging of many times that number.

Philadelphia needs to catch up with really progressive green cities that require green roofs on new construction, and that already have a network of public EV charging stations so that we truly call ourselves green. And Society Hill supports that.

Rosanne Loesch is president of the Society Hill Civic Association.