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Surprise Edits to Zoning Code Proposal

Yesterday the Zoning Code Commission released its “Blueline Draft” of the new zoning code proposal. The Commission will vote on the draft next Wednesday.  The Commission is likely to vote “yes” on the draft, after which the proposal could go before City Council as early as February 17th.

After repeatedly assuring SCRUB and other interested parties that the signage chapter of the code would not be touched – and would function essentially as a placeholder operating under the provisions of the current code – until significantly later than the main body of the zoning code, the Zoning Code Commission has made sweeping revisions to the signage code in its latest round of edits. The “Blueline Draft” of the signage code appears to be made up mostly of newly edited blue text.

To put this chapter in context, you may wish to consult these charts relating the current zoning districts to the designations used in the proposed code, and this map which will help you know your zoning district.

Because the draft was only released yesterday, SCRUB is still reeling from the implications of the surprise edit, but among the changes, this version of the code would appear to allow animated digital signage in store windows as a matter of right.  It also appears to remove prohibitions on signs on tree gaurds, tree supports, and utility poles.


*** UPDATE ***

The final vote on the new zoning code has been postponed two weeks, but the Commission will still hear public comments at this week’s meeting.  SCRUB plans to testify, and encourages anyone with concerns about the Blueline Draft to do likewise.

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Could Massive Wall Wraps be Returning to this Building?


Attend Council Hearing 11/1/11 at 10 am and share your opinion with City
Council Rules Committee.  Tell them that  you do not want 10,000
Square foot digital billboards along Spring Garden street, just blocks
from Independence Mall.  Tell them that Philadelphia skyline is not
for sale…and it’s definitely not available for free.  Tell them to
follow the advise of the Planning Commission and vote no on Bill

The 600 block between Willow and Spring Garden Streets has been the subject of previous attention for wall wraps. A wrap was illegally erected, and SCRUB, via a lengthy struggle through the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the courts (going as high as a denial of certiorari at the US Supreme Court) helped get it down, and ensure that it was determined to violate the Philadelphia Zoning Code. Bill 110563 (PDF) represents an attempt to circumvent the zoning code’s protections.


Bill 110563, in addition to being a potential example of illegal spot zoning, and attempting to skirt the previously adjudicated violations of Philadelphia zoning law that these massive advertising wraps would create, may also prove a violation of the Federal Highway Beautification Act. In Philadelphia, adherence to this act must minimally conform to the January 1972 agreement between PennDOT and and the Federal Government; this agreement applies to areas “within 660 feet of the nearest edge of the right of way of all portions of the interstates system in which signs are visible from the main travelled way of said system, zoned commercial or industrial.” The area in question is zoned L4 Industrial; about half the block falls within 660 feet of the main traveled way of the Vine Street Expressway. The most likely site for the wall wrap, the face of the building on the Southern edge of the block facing Willow Street and the Vine Street Expressway is clearly visible from the Expressway, and is within 660 feet.

If possible, please attend tomorrow’s Planning Commission meeting and voice your disapproval for this massive wall wrap. The meeting will take place at 1pm in the One Parkway building at 1515 Arch Street, Tuesday, October 18th. If you cannot attend, please consider contacting:

Philadelphia City Planning Commission
One Parkway, 13th Floor
1515 Arch Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102

Phone: 215.683.4615
Fax: 215.683.4630

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Scenic Philadelphia Facilitates Summer Academic Program for High School Students


July 2012 – Scenic Philadelphia, the Public Voice for Public Space, partnered with Philadelphia Futures to create a three-week summer academic program for local high school students. Philadelphia Futures is a city-wide college success program that seeks to prepare low-income students for college. Through personalized college guidance, financial programs, and supplemental academic courses, Philadelphia Futures has helped 98% of its student body enroll in college. The intensive class, which culminated in a final research paper and PowerPoint competition, was taught by Sam Quinney, a Villanova grad who began his career in education through Teach for America.

The curriculum, which Quinney developed in concert with Scenic Philadelphia, asked students to tackle issues integral to Scenic Philadelphia’s mission-those of blight and urban renewal. Wrangling with this question of urban change, a subject that is often nebulous and subjective, participants were forced to look at their own communities with a more acute eye. The final project, which required students to propose a plan to revitalize a space, challenged kids to analyze and scrutinize their environments; to understand which places they liked, which they disliked, and why-tough questions for any city resident, let alone a high school student. Through class discussion, field trips, and lectures by guest speakers, the class learned about important urban issues-from redlining, to zoning laws, to sustainable design-and how they, as residents, can better their own communities.

The superb lineup of guest speakers, arranged by Scenic Philadelphia, helped to flesh out the content of the curriculum for the class. Within the first week alone, Kellie Patrick Gates, a reporter for PlanPhilly, gave students a tour of the recently renovated Race Street Pier. Professor Amy Hillier, at the University of Pennsylvania, enlivened the class with her discussion of historical housing practices as well as her current research into the content of corner store signage. Our own Mary Tracy, along with Bonita Cummings, of the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, spoke to the power of passionate, community-based efforts to promote change, while a visit to the New Kensington Community Development Corporation served to exemplify the tangible results of a dedicated local organization. By week two, the discussion transitioned from pre-existing urban issues to how students might effect change. Scenic Philadelphia Staff Attorney, Stephanie Kindt, spoke of the legal process and zoning issues an individual must face when attempting to alter the urban landscape, while Robin Kohles, from the Community Design Collaborative, hosted an interactive discussion about design and its impact on our space.

After several days dedicated to editing and finalizing their work, students presented their refashioned spaces to a panel of judges. The final ceremony was held the next day, Friday July 29th at the Philadelphia Bar Association, during which the students with the top three projects presented their work for a prize. In front of their peers, family, and friends, Patrick Reddick, Brianna Zepp, and Tiana Blackson presented their work. Though each project was distinct-from Patrick’s plan for a local library, to Brianna’s vision for a recreation center, to Tiana’s strategy to clean up an overgrown cemetery, each proposal was marked by the student’s sense of ownership and pride over their space, a sense of vested dedication necessary to enact change. The panel of judges, after a long period of deliberation, awarded Brianna first place for her proposed recreation center to be built in Juniata. Brianna’s project was standout not only for its vision, but likewise for the breadth of its program, which in addition to providing some history of her space, likewise proposed a thoughtful plan to actually carry out the program. Brianna’s prize was a brand new Nook, the perfect tool to help her continue her studies.

Scenic Philadelphia would like to congratulate our Philadelphia Futures students for their work. We’d like to thank all the speakers-Kellie Patrick Gates, Amy Hillier, Mary Tracy, Bonita Cummings, Stephanie Kindt, and Robin Kohles-for helping contribute to the program, as well Holly Brown for filming the final event. We’d also like to thank the New Kensington CDC and the Philadelphia Bar Association for hosting the group. To use a quote Mary Tracy shared with the class, “One generation plants the seed, another gets the shade.” Through a three-week intensive curriculum, young people learned the profound wisdom of this sentiment and how their actions alter not only their own lives, but likewise the life of their community.

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The Need for Brands to Co-Exist as Citizens

Marc Gobé, marketing pioneer, is concerned about the impact of outdoor advertising on brands.  In this talk for the Sustainable Brands 2011 Conference, he discusses how the dominating presence of billboards injures goodwill for the brands that advertise.

In the video Gobé discusses the alienating effect of outdoor advertising on citizens, and the impact this has on the brands that use outdoor advertising.  The tendency of the billboard industry not to take “no” for an answer, illegally erecting billboards and removing trees that obscure the view to those billboards impacts the public’s opinion of the brands advertised, more than of the billboard companies themselves.

Gobé concludes the talk by calling on brands to give citizens their cities back, by following the lead of cities like Sao Paulo and Houston; cities once plagued by billboards, and now home to thriving economies, prestigious companies, and tremendous increases in population and retail sales.  His prescription for generating goodwill for brands:

  1. Don’t support illegal billboards; don’t let the public associate your brand with flouting the law.
  2. Don’t work with billboard companies that cut trees to clear views of their signs; these practices solidify the public’s sense of billboards as pollution.
  3. Don’t sponsor billboard companies that use the court system to support illegal billboards.
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Trash in the Sky

One of Scenic America’s Board members, Ossian Orr has made a new video telling the story of a Clear Channel partnership with a community that has created a great deal of animosity in a neighboring community.

However, it is primarily the story of a woman who has been trying to do something about it.

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Continued commitment to Scenic Beauty in Maine

The Portland Press Herald recently published an excellent Opinion piece on the importance of Maine’s continued committment to banning off-premise commercial signage.

Because the Portland Press Herald will not license stories for re-publication on other web sites, please visit the link below to read the article.

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Scenic Philadelphia Awarded Grant for Internship

The Samuel S. Fels Fund recently awarded 15 grants to Philadelphia nonprofit organizations to support internships for graduate students during the summer of 2011. These internships are full-time and take place over the summer. The interns are paid a stipend of $6,000. The internship position description and contact information for applicants are below.

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New Developments with the Zoning Code Commission

Dear Scenic PhiladelphiaMembers and Friends,

Today the Zoning Code Commission Voted to give 10 More Weeks for Review and Revisions to the Draft Zoning Code

The ZCC voted to extend the time period for review and revisions during today’s Wednesday, March 2nd Meeting rather than vote on the current draft and send it off to Council.
The revised Philadelphia Zoning Code will impact land use and development in neighborhoods, business districts, and the overall visual character of our city for decades to come.

To read the third draft version of the proposed code visit and select the “greenlined” draft.

Due to the complex nature of regulating signage and the competing interests of passionate community advocates and powerful sign industry lobbyists, the chapter on signage will be held for further review. We will be helping to enlist community participation and comments during this phase of the sign code rewrite and will count on your help to implement a sign code policy that will enhance the visual character of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, business corridors and gateways.

Scenic Philadelphia gave comment and the ZCC listened.

In the meantime, the current revised code contained several areas where we detected changes that could have had a negative impact on neighborhoods. We presented our observations and suggestions to the Zoning Code Commission staff. Here are some of the key issues addressed and their response:

Scenic Philadelphia Concerns / ZCC Response

Digital Billboards & Accessory signage ZCC to ensure L&I using correct standard currently and will consider limitations
“Interior Illumination” ZCC to clean up language and consider limitations based on public input
“Adjacent Lots” Scenic Philadelphia to propose new language that is broader yet able to be clearly defined by law
Building logo signs ZCC to simplify language, will consider a size and building occupancy limitation
Billboards permitted in new I-2 District including Food Distribution Center where such signs are currently prohibited ZCC consulting with Planning Commission to consider request to preserve protections.
Legislative Findings Have been incorporated into the enacting ordinance. Scenic Philadelphia continues to have concerns regarding this issue.
Including Safety Standards as part of the criteria for approval of signs ZCC will consider
Abatement (Enforcement) of sign codes remains the same at Scenic Philadelphia’s request


Please contact us with any questions or if you would like a copy of the full summary of Issues/Responses. We will work to keep you informed and engaged during this important public process.

Thank you for your support,

Mary Tracy

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Lower Moyamensing Signage Workshop

Last night, Scenic Philadelphia presented a workshop on legal and attractive accessory signage for business owners in Lower Moyamensing.  Scenic Philadelphia was joined by representatives of the Community Design Collaborative, the City Commerce Department, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, and Councilman Frank DiCicco.

Scenic Philadelphia distributed a specially prepared version of our Accessory Signage Handbook, providing information tailored to business owners in Lower Moyamensing.

Scenic Philadelphia was honored by the invitiation to make this presentation, and hopes to have the opportunity to help communities throughout the city with similar resources and events.  If your community is interested in Scenic Philadelphia’s help preparing resources to inform area business owners in making decisions about their signage, please contact us.

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McConville et al v. The City of Philadelphia et al

A Philadelphia business owner arrived to work one morning to find a billboard had crashed against the side and roof of her building, causing extensive damage.  When the sign company ignored the law and began to replace the nonconforming billboard structure, an inspector from the city’s enforcement agency issued a stop order.

But, according to the City’s Law Department, the business owner had no basis to challenge the rebuilding of the billboard because of a Settlement Agreement signed by a former City Solicitor and members of certain billboard companies. The agreement purports to “legalize” certain signs and protect them from adhering to the city’s zoning laws.

The property owner came to Scenic Philadelphia for help and we recruited Attorney Charles Sweedler.  Two plaintiffs are involved but the case will impact hundreds of illegal billboards and 9 million dollars in lost license fees, as well as potential fines and penalties.  The City has had the case removed to Federal court, and now seeks to have it dismissed for lack of Federal standing.  We expect to know whether the plaintiffs will be able to successfully remand to state court this coming Monday.

Philadelphia is not the only city where the attorneys for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America and multi-national billboard companies have forged questionable agreements with Law Departments.  A judge revoked a similar agreement in Los Angeles calling it “poison”.  To read more about the settlement click here.

Steen Fallen Billboard

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The Settlement Cases

August 9, 2006: The City of Philadelphia Law Department settles a lawsuit with representatives of the billboard industry..

March 6, 2007: Scenic Philadelphia, along with five members of Philadelphia City Council, four other community organizations, and one individual sues the City for violations of due process rights, and rights to access the courts and to petition the government.

June 21, 2007: The suit is dismissed with prejudice from Federal District Court.

October 9, 2007: Plaintiffs from the March 6th case appeal to the Federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

August 12, 2008: The Third Circuit Court affirms the order of the Federal District court in part, and modifies it in part, holding that, while the Plaintiffs lacked standing in Federal court, the merit of their claims could still be litigated in the state courts

2010: Plaintiffs bring a similar claim in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.

2010: Defendants have the case removed to Federal Dristrict court because the claim raises questions of Federal Law.

2010: Plaintiffs move to remand the case to the state court system.

October 21, 2010: Defendants move to dismiss the claim on the basis of a lack of Federal Question jurisdiction.