Philly Council OKs bill allowing down zoning for Society Hill

Philadelphia City Council voted unanimously Thursday to pass a measure that will allow down zoning of much of Society Hill.

The bill, introduced in January by City Councilmember Mark Squilla, includes new strict height restrictions for buildings, increased parking requirements, and the elimination of bonuses and exemptions in the name of historic preservation.

Opponents of the bill said it will only serve to prevent any affordable, multi-family housing from being developed in the area, thereby preserving not just its historic character but also its largely white and wealthy residential makeup.

“Letting a handful of residents define Society Hill’s urban context, while ignoring its history of wanton urban renewal that demolished ‘nonconforming’ mid-rises, is the epitome of hypocrisy and the opposite of good preservation policy,” Benjamin She, a volunteer for the urban advocacy group 5th Square, said in prepared testimony.

Society Hill today is in large part the result of urban renewal policies and blight clearance in the 1960s.

“Society Hill was and always will be part of Center City, and it’s exactly where we should be providing abundant housing for all income levels for maximum opportunity and minimum risk of displacement,” She’s statement read.

Society Hill Civic Association president Larry Spector stressed that the bill aimed only to preserve the scale and historical character of the area, and took issue with it being classified as NIMBY-ist.

“This is not an anti-affordable housing effort,” said Spector, who lives at Sixth and Addison streets and has been in the neighborhood for over 30 years.

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