O’Neill visits Somerton meeting, discusses Council bills to amend zoning code

City Councilman Brian O’Neill used the monthly meeting of the Somerton Civic Association to detail three Council bills that he recently introduced to amend the city’s zoning code.

The bills are at different stages of the legislative process, O’Neill said during the Nov. 11 civic meeting. If passed, one bill would further restrict the size of accessory structures on residential properties, while another would make it harder for someone to operate a group child day-care program in a home and the third would toughen the approval process for someone looking to conduct business activities in a home.

The accessory structure measure originated with a Somerton zoning case earlier this fall when a resident sought approval for a shed that he had previously built in his backyard. O’Neill described the shed as “very large,” larger in fact than neighbors were willing to accept. At the time, the civic association voted not to approve the structure. The city’s zoning board followed suit and rejected the application.

At last week’s meeting, O’Neill explained that the shed was actually legal in terms of its size, according to the new zoning code implemented by the city in 2012. The owner needed a variance only because the structure was too close to the edge of his property.

Under the new code, residents are allowed to build 20-foot by 40-foot structures — or larger depending on the size of their homes. Under the old code, the permitted size was much smaller. O’Neill’s bill would return the dimensions to the levels contained in the old code. The bill passed Council’s Rules Committee on Nov. 6. Full-Council passage is imminent, O’Neill said.

His second proposal originated with an application by a couple to open a “group day-care” center inside a Bustleton home. If approved, the couple would’ve been allowed to serve 12 children in addition to their own. Under the new zoning code, the couple would not have needed a variance for the operation. They would have needed only a “special exception.”

O’Neill’s proposal would make a variance the requirement for group day-care in certain types of residential properties, specifically twins and rowhomes. Although it had some opposition at the Rules Committee level, the bill is being amended to ensure that it will get enough votes to pass.

Finally, O’Neill’s third bill addresses what he views as a loophole in the new zoning code regarding “home occupations,” that is, business activities that people conduct in residential properties.

Some believe that professional services like hair and nail treatment, facials or yoga instruction are covered under the home occupation provisions, which allow for the operator to put a small sign on their home, employ an assistant and accept clients on-site. Others, including O’Neill, don’t think that the intent of the code is to allow residents to post signs, hire employees or host clients in a home. Those types of activities belong in commercial properties, they argue.

So, much like the day-care bill, O’Neill wants to require a variance for home-based professional services, rather than a mere special exception. That bill is expected to go before the Rules Committee on Dec. 2.

In other Somerton Civic business:

• Treasurer Pat Cantwell celebrated her birthday with a serenade of “Happy Birthday to You” by members. She also announced that she would step down from the civic board. President Seth Kaplan thanked Cantwell for eight years of service as treasurer.

• Leaders from Cranaleith Spiritual Center invited veterans and their families to participate in a series of spiritual healing and renewal programs. Visit www.cranaleith.org for information.

• Owners of Green Pastures announced they are planning to open a new farmer’s market in Somerton, possibly on the grounds of Walker Lodge 306, 1290 Southampton Road. Visit the Greener Pastures page on Facebook for information.

• Philadelphia Water Department officials announced that they plan to install new water mains on Bustleton Avenue from Red Lion Road to Gorman Street, Haldeman Avenue from Sanford Street to the Boulevard, and Red Lion Road from Northeast Boulevard to Ferndale Street.

• The 18th annual Officer Daniel Boyle Athletic Program beef ’n’ beer will be on Saturday, Nov. 29, from 8 p.m. to midnight at FOP Lodge 5, 11630 Caroline Road. Tickets cost $40 and include beer, wine and food. Contact Lou DeCree at loudecree@comcast.net ••