By Jake Blumgart of PlanPhilly
Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson’s ban on bay windows and balconies in the Point Breeze and Grays Ferry neighborhoods could hit Mayor Jim Kenney’s desk to be signed into law as soon as next week.
The bill advanced out of committee Wednesday, less than two weeks after he introduced the legislation. The bill could pass the full Council as early as next Thursday.
Johnson wants to ban these architectural flourishes in Point Breeze and Grays Ferry at a time when both neighborhoods are experiencing rushes of reinvestment and subsequent demographic shifts, with both neighborhoods becoming whiter and wealthier as new residents move into souped-up homes.
The bill singles out balconies and bay windows–which are also seen on some older homes in the district–because of their aesthetics, Johnson said Wednesday.
“I call them pop-out windows, that’s where we have these monstrosity developments with windows with aluminum siding that are green or orange or blue, and they don’t fit on these blocks that are all red-brick rowhouses,” Johnson said when asked what inspired the bill.
“Why doesn’t the developer, as a matter of courtesy to residents who live on the block, build something that comes as close as possible to what’s already on that block?” Johnson added.
The Kenney administration spoke against the bill. A Streets Department supervisor, Patrick Iffrig, testified that the legislation would be extremely difficult to enforce. As written, the law would have to be enforced by the Streets Department’s Right of Way unit, which the administration said is already overburdened.
“We do not believe that the Department of Streets is adequately equipped or is the appropriate agency to enforce this restriction,” said Iffrig, an engineering supervisor with Streets.
The legislation would require a developer who wants to build a bay window or balcony to request permission to encroach on the right of way.
Iffrig was the only person who testified, despite the flurry of social media outrage and satire surrounding Johnson’s legislation. The bill was merely one of 43 pieces of legislation considered at the Streets Committee’s hearing on Wednesday.
Johnson said the hearing was the first time he’d heard administration concerns about the bill and urged his colleagues to pass the legislation out of committee. They all did so.
The councilman said the legislation zeroes in on Grays Ferry and Point Breeze because those are the communities where he’s faced the most constituent complaints about new homes being built that don’t conform with the surrounding blocks.
Johnson lives in Point Breeze, where a rush of new investment has transformed rowhome blocks as developers snatch up vacant lots and older homes.
New three- and four-story townhomes blinged out with roof decks tower above their more modest red-brick neighbors. Many of them sport the boxy bay windows targeted by the pending legislation.
The ban on bay windows and balconies isn’t the only instance where Johnson has sought to use legislation to shape new development in these two neighborhoods. A zoning overlay bill that Johnson introduced last year would restrict houses from being built higher than adjacent two-story homes. That bill will not advance this session, Johnson said Wednesday.
Developers building in Johnson’s district said that the bill won’t stop them from pursuing housing projects in the area.
“I’d prefer to be able to incorporate bay windows and balconies into residential designs,” said Steve Kosloski, vice-president with Streamline, a development company that has built large luxury homes with bay windows in Point Breeze and Graduate Hospital. “But I don’t have that strong of an opinion on it either way.”
Noah Ostroff of Philly Living, who is now developing a new housing complex on Washington Avenue, said he could see both sides of the issue. He said that he sees the legislation as an overblown reaction to an architectural trend that will probably die off on its own.
But he also said that, if enacted, the bill will simply push developers to be more innovative.
“I think the ban on bay windows will disrupt the architectural creativity of the neighborhood,” Ostroff said. “Having said that, we as developers will have to come up with other creative ways to add dimension and character to the houses and buildings that we are building.”
Frequent Johnson opponent Ori Feibush, one of the most prominent developers in Point Breeze, straightforwardly denounced the bill. But he said that he is already phasing out these kinds of boxy bay windows anyway.
“Bay windows are just an aesthetic feature and only in the rarest instances are they mission critical,” said Feibush, who challenged Johnson in the 2015 City Council race. “This bill has no substance and no value. It just adds an additional layer of red tape and absurdity to the neighborhood.”
The bill will be put up for a first reading tomorrow before the full City Council and could receive a second reading and final passage as early as next week.