Last night I met with the zoning committee from the East Kensington Neighbors Association which is the local neighborhood group for the area our project is in. In Philly, each neighborhood is represented by an association of neighbors that appoints a zoning committee from its members to assist developers and homeowners who require zoning variances for their projects. Out zoning code is extremely outdated so most projects need to seek variances. The zoning committee will meet with developers and prepare them for a neighborhood meeting on their specific project where a vote will be taken by the neighbors. The results of the vote will be sent to the main Philadelphia Zoning Board to aid in the developer or homeowners hearing to receive a variance. I am simplifying the process but you get the picture…
For our project, we have taken care to not violate any of the zoning requirements for our lot and technically do not need to go before the zoning committee or neighbors. We wanted to meet with the zoning committee as well as the local neighbors to present our project and gain feedback so that we could make any necessary changes to the design to make the project more acceptable to the community and fit in well with the direction they are trying to lead their neighborhood. Besides being key to our mission we feel it is the courteous thing to do.
The zoning committee of EKNA is only 4 people strong so we met at a local bar and restaurant a few blocks from the project. The discussion was much better than the food. The zoning crew gave me some idea of the type of development they liked for the area and I gave them a brief history of postgreen, our values and the types of projects we want to develop. We then reviewed the initial plans we started with for the project and moved onto the current set of plans.
Overall the committee really liked the concept and design of the project. They like the fact that the homes are small and two story without garages which fits in with the majority of the homes in that area. Most projects they see are for very large homes with front garages that don’t fit in well with the neighboring homes. They also are an open minded group that really wants to see modern and progressive architecture in the neighborhood and feel that this type of design will really add to the community. This is great to hear in Philly as many neighborhoods will deride any project that is at all modern and doesn’t contain a full facade of Philly red brick (or the latest faded shade of red builder grade brick).
The main suggestions they had lined up with most of the recent comments on the newest design. One of their biggest desires for new development is that the design encourages interaction with the neighbors and passers by. They also want as many “eyes on the street” as possible to increase the safety of the neighborhood. In keeping with this spirit for the neighborhood they suggested changes to the window configuration on the front (north) facade and to the proposed CMU fencing proposed for the units.
The new windows on the ground floor of the new facade are roughly at knew height which prevents people from being able to keep an eye on the street or easily interact with the community from inside their homes. Again, this is a result of one of my suggestions to improve passive cooling in our latest design meeting that was OK in theory but less OK on paper. I mentioned that we had a couple ideas to improve the window configuration and would definitely remedy this in our final design.
Secondly, they were not crazy about the solid CMU fencing around the perimeter of the project. The wall came across as uninviting and a seemed to act as a barrier between the new homes and the neighborhood. They were also concerned about this being very attractive to local kids who like to tag buildings and solid fences in the neighborhood. They suggested some type of a metal or wooden fence that was lighter and allowed people to interact from both sides without having to peek over the top. I also agreed to look into alternatives for this as well, and possibly something that would encourage vines to grow on to add a green element to the corner.
In summary, it was a great meeting and I was happy to find that our project lined up so well with what the community wants to see. It was also refreshing and encouraging to have such an open minded and forward thinking team of neighbors involved in this local zoning committee. I look forward to working with them more in the future.
I also received an email from Brian at ISA to say that they were keeping up with all the blog posts and working on alternatives for window configurations on the facades. Once we get our builder feedback and quotes we will have a huge design meeting to make any and hopefully all architectural changes needed to hit our budget and take care of the design changes we have been discussing.