Germantown Avenue: Guiding Growth in the Mount Airy Business District
In the first post for the Germantown Avenue Strategy, we told you that the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is working with residents and communities to shape development along the Avenue. As an early action, the Planning Commission and Council adopted new zoning rules for Germantown Avenue from Johnson Street to Cresheim Valley Drive.
What is Zoning?
Zoning controls the size and shape of buildings and how they are used. These rules should be easy to understand. Development should fit in with what’s around it. When this happens, there’s a shared understanding about what’s possible.
What was included in the changes?
DPD created a framework for preserving the Avenue’s feel while welcoming new jobs and residents. The change had four elements:
1. Consistent Rules
Properties clustered together now have similar zoning rules. The size and shape of new buildings will be more predictable as a result.
On Germantown Avenue from Johnson Street to Sedgwick Street, and from Allens Lane to Cresheim Valley Drive, we mostly used the Commercial Mixed-Use CMX-2 designation as the standard.
In the heart of the Mount Airy business district between Sedgwick and Allens, we used CMX-2.5. CMX-2.5 is a Commercial Mixed-Use designation that allows for taller buildings than CMX-2. Read more about zoning districts in PCPC’s Zoning Quick Reference Guide.
2. Building Design Approval
We heard from neighbors that Germantown Avenue’s buildings are unique and treasured.
We also know that strong businesses depend on strong design. Friendly building scale and design give Germantown Avenue an edge over suburban shopping centers.
That’s why new buildings and alterations now need Planning Commission approval for the design of the facade, the front of the building.
3. Considerations for Corner Lots and Historic Properties
If you have a building in a CMX-2 or 2.5 district, the zoning code requires you to put a business on the first floor. But many lots on Germantown Avenue wrap around to side streets. The commercial-use rule now only applies to the Germantown Avenue side of the building. This will focus commercial activity on the Avenue.
Properties listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places will not have to meet the ground floor use rule. This will remove a hurdle to investing in historic buildings.
Some recent residential projects demonstrated a need for reasonable off-street parking requirements. Off-street parking is car storage that’s not on a public street, such as in parking lots and garages.
The new rules require off-street parking if a project has 20 or more apartments or condos. They now must build 1 space for every 3 housing units.
We chose this section of Germantown Avenue first because it had the most construction activity. These new rules will balance growth with reasonable safeguards. We will continue a similar strategy for the rest of Germantown Avenue. And we'll take neighborhood concerns into account.
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Matt Wysong, Senior Planner