BIA Policy Agenda
BEFORE THE START OF THE PANDEMIC, THE NEW 2020 CITY COUNCIL PROPOSED A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF BILLS AND RESOLUTIONS TARGETING REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT AND CONSTRUCTION.
City departments were also in the process of proposing changes to building regulations and implementing changes to application and permitting procedures. Below is a summary of what the BIA will be tracking once the City and City Council start getting back to full capacity.
Bill No. 200084 Tax Abatement
Councilmember Henon introduced a bill making eligibility for a tax abatement based on tax compliance, including the failure of any employer to pay wage taxes because of a misclassification of workers.
Bill No. 200011 Paid Family Leave
Councilmember Henon has also introduced legislation requiring all employers in Philadelphia to give three months of paid family leave.
Bill No. 200005 Community Benefits Agreements
Council President Clarke has re-introduced the Community Benefits Agreement legislation that the mayor pocket-vetoed at the end of 2019. The BIA is not opposing the bill in its current form, which requires CBAs for "high impact projects or development projects that receive city support or financial assistance." The proposed thresholds are "at least 100,000 square feet of earth disturbance; or the development, including all planned phases, would result in at least 250,000 square feet of gross floor area."
Bill No. 200118 Center City Bulk and Massing Controls
Introduced by Councilmember O'Neill for Councilmember Squilla, this bill revises bulk and massing controls in the CMX-4 and CMX-5 districts on Sansom, Chestnut, and Walnut Streets. On the surface, the legislation seems to be contrary to the aims of the recommendations of the Zoning Code Commission and the need for density in our urban core. The BIA requested a meeting with Councilman Squilla, Philadelphia City Planning Commission staff, and the Center City Residents Association to discuss the details of the bill before a hearing is scheduled.
Bill No. 200082 ZBA
Introduced by Councilmember Parker for Council President Clarke, Bill No. 200082 adds requirements to the granting of variances that would heighten the test for "hardship." The BIA is reviewing the impacts of the bill with member legal advisors and will prepare to testify as needed.
Freshman Councilmember Kendra Brooks called for hearings to discuss rent control on her first day of City Council. Although the scheduled hearing date has been postponed, the BIA will be prepared to testify that rent control in other cities has had negative consequences and that instead of price regulations, the city should help tenants with reforms that allow more types of housing construction.
In 2018, Councilmember Blackwell introduced and passed legislation that set a 180-day limit for administrative reviews of projects that received a variance or special exception. The BIA opposed the legislation at the time but was only able to increase the time limit to 180 days, not the life of the permit, which forces many projects to return to the ZBA without a clear hardship. The BIA is working with Planning to revisit the time frame, as well as clarify what is a "more or less onerous use."
Traffic Impact Studies/Fees
Streets reported that progress has been made on draft regulations for traffic impact studies and fees. Act 209 language has been incorporated and includes regulations for appeals and refunds. Some background work on calculations still needs to be done. The BIA requested an opportunity to review and comment on the draft regulations before they are instituted and has two meetings scheduled with the department to go over this and other issues.
Streets announced that staff will be going to training to enable certain actions on L+I's system when it goes live, such as commenting on whether the project is "major" or "minor." For major projects, the current process with Streets would then be triggered. Streets' own online system is being designed by the same consultant as L+I. Testing will begin in the summer and a launch is planned before the end of the year.
L & I
L+I reported that the department will be requiring a "fire watch" based on the parameters of the 2021 IFC. The program is a joint venture between L+I and the Philadelphia Fire Department and would require a fire watch during nonworking hours for all building demolition and construction activities. The Fire Department is currently analyzing proposed thresholds for when the fire watch would be required. The BIA provided detailed comments on the proposal and will follow up with L+I to discuss in detail.
L+I is proposing a new excavator license that would be modeled after the demolition contractor license. Any contractor with this license could perform the work of a GC, so both licenses would not be required. Operators would need OSHA 30 and OSHA #3015 certifications. Other proposed requirements include bonding, insurance, a demonstration of experience, and registration of workers on site. The excavation permit is intended to work within the current permitting process with additional notice requirements for neighbors within 3 feet of excavation. Any excavation more than 3 feet below grade would require the permit, with exceptions for certain utility installations and tank removals. The BIA has expressed concerns about both proposals and will be following up with L+I to discuss.
Building Envelope Special Inspection
L+I is proposing to add a water membrane (flashing) inspection to the building envelope special inspection for one and two-family homes, relying on the HERS checklist. BIA expressed concern about the availability of skilled inspectors, liability, sequencing of work and inspections, and ensuring means and methods post inspection. The BIA was asked to develop a meaningful alternative to L+I's proposal as soon as possible.