Zoning changes could affect local renting

The City Planning Commission’s plan would discourage landlords from renting to students.

Changes to the city’s zoning code proposed by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission could prohibit multi-family dwellings from being built across Lower North Philadelphia, including in Yorktown, where an ordinance already bars property owners from converting the housing to multi-family units. JACOB MCGLEW FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission plans to revise the city’s zoning code — beginning with the portions that apply to North Philadelphia — as part of the Philadelphia2035 comprehensive plan.

One proposed change to the zoning code, which could come in 2017, could affect the types of renters or buyers for properties around Temple. The zoning changes will prohibit multiple-family dwellings from being built, thus taking away the incentive for landlords or developers to build houses marketed toward Temple students, said Nick Pizzola, vice president and treasurer of Temple Area Property Association, a group of landlords who represent developers in the area around Main Campus.

The plan aims to remedy the issue of vacant buildings and struggling commercial districts, according to Philadelphia2035’s Lower North District Plan. Philadelphia 2035 is the city’s development plan to invest in neighborhoods and compete in the global economy.

In August 2012, the City Planning Commission started a four-year process to rezone the Lower North Philadelphia district. This has been the first rewrite of the zoning code in 50 years, according to the Lower North District Plan.

These changes are to “set clear rules and expectations about land use, preserve neighborhood character, protect open space and encourage investment and jobs,” according to the plan.

It cited Temple’s rapid expansion into Lower North Philadelphia as a contributing factor to conflicts over parking, overcrowding and the scale of new buildings in the area. According to the plan, student housing is causing conflict with “code enforcement.”

Currently, landlords are allowed to develop multiple-family dwellings that are marketed toward Temple students looking to live off-campus. The updated zoning code would bar landlords and developers from building multi-family homes and will need to keep them as single-family homes.

“It takes away the incentive for landlords to rent to multiple students,” Pizzola said.

Renting to three or four students in a single-family home does not provide enough financial incentive for landlords, Pizzola added, versus being able to collect rent from eight or 10 students in a multiple-family dwelling.

In 2011, landlords ran into the same issue when City Council President Darrell Clarke proposed a bill that would prohibit further building of multiple-family dwellings in the Main Campus area.

The bill did not advance, Jane Roh, the director of communications for Darrell Clarke, wrote in an email. However it did lead to the proposal for a North Central Neighborhood Improvement District, which would have charged fees to landlords who rented multi-family units.

The community opposed the formation of the district, and the bill once again did not advance, she wrote.

“The Council President is in constant communication with Temple-area residents, university officials, and students, and will continue to work with them to help encourage development in a responsible manner,” she added.

As of now, landlords have not faced any zoning changes that affect their business. Uncertainty over whether the changes will be implemented are causing concern, Pizzola said.

“Everything is in limbo,” he added.

Peter Crawford, a member of TAPA, said that Clarke’s bill from 2011 was only introduced to alert people of the tensions between students and community residents.

Temple instituted the “Good Neighbor Policy” shortly after the ordinance was created in 2011 to combat to issue of community and student tensions due to excess trash in the streets, loud parties and other off-campus student activity.

The new zoning changes have the same objective of Clarke’s bill from 2011.

Kelly Brennan can be reached at kelly.brennan@temple.edu or on Twitter @_kellybrennan.

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