by Mike Hauptman
In 2008, Queen Village became Philadelphia’s first Neighborhood Conservation District (NCO). This designation requires certain construction, modifications or improvements to comply with rules contained in the ordinance and legislation.
The NCO was conceived as a way for neighborhoods to develop guidelines that would overlay the Philadelphia Zoning Code to help preserve the character of their individual neighborhoods in the city. Recognizing that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all when it comes to zoning regulations, the City Planning Commission developed this program to allow a neighborhood to determine what qualities make it unique and then, through the zoning and building permit process, apply design guidelines that will ensure that those qualities are protected.
While neighborhoods like Society Hill and Rittenhouse Square have been made historic districts, which provide a heavy layer of protection to their overall architectural character, Queen Village has only individual properties listed as historic — and that list is remarkably spotty.
In the early 2000s, development in the neighborhood made it evident just how vulnerable the architectural quality of the neighborhood really is. Old, but not “historic” properties were being demolished and replaced with houses with garage fronts; buildings that were not appropriately scaled for some of our smallest streets, even though they complied with the zoning code, were replacing charming, smaller houses; incompatible materials were being used in new house construction that changed the 18th and 19th century character of our older streets and courtyards.
With the support of Councilman DiCicco and the QVNA Board, Queen Village was given the opportunity to be the first neighborhood to develop its guidelines through a regulated process that involved consultation with the City Planning Commission and the Preservation Alliance.
The guidelines were presented to the community at General Meetings in September 2004, in January 2006, in November 2006 and again in January 2007 where comments and suggestions were considered and included. The proposed ordinance that was subsequently drawn up by the City, made public, and enacted during the summer of 2008.
It is important to note that these guidelines apply only to new construction and to substantial renovation. They are triggered by an application for a building permit. Existing buildings or work that does not require a building permit are not affected by the ordinance.
The NCO has provided Queen Village with an important and unique opportunity to protect and preserve the architectural quality of our neighborhood. The original guidelines that we had developed have been included in the new Zoning Code which went into effect in August, 2012. To date, Queen Village remains the only Neighborhood Conservation District in Philadelphia and continues to have the enthusiastic support of Councilman Squilla and the City Planning Commission.