O’Neill bill passes banning roof decks, restricting hotels

After being blocked by the Planning Commission, Councilman Brian O’Neill’s bill banning rooftop decks and imposing other restrictions passed Council.

Twin homes rising on the 7600 block of Verree Road prompted Councilman Brian O’Neill to push a bill banning rooftop decks and imposing height restrictions in his district. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

After being stymied late last year by the City Planning Commission, Councilman Brian O’Neill’s bill banning rooftop decks and restricting the height of buildings in his district was approved by his colleagues Thursday.

The legislation also prohibits hotels from setting up in a shopping center less than 1,000 feet from homes in the 10th District, which generally covers the area north of Cottman Avenue on the west side of Roosevelt Boulevard and north of Grant Avenue east of the Boulevard.

O’Neill said a twin house under construction on the 7600 block of Verree Road in Fox Chase was the impetus for the roof deck and height regulations.

A builder has been constructing two semi-detached three-story homes with a roof deck and pilot house. In addition, the plan calls for a driveway that slopes into a garage. The property was subdivided after a deadly 2018 fire. 

O’Neill said the homes are basically five stories, if you count the garage and roof deck. The homes, which are still under construction, tower over nearby residences.

“When you see it, it just looks ungodly,” he said.

Under the new law, property owners will need a variance to build a roof deck or go above 35 feet. In the rest of the city, roof decks are allowed in many circumstances and developers can go up to 38 feet in residentially-zoned areas.

In November, O’Neill pushed a similar bill, but the Planning Commission chose to delay a Council vote for 45 days. Members of the body questioned the rationale for the legislation, according to minutes from the commission’s Dec. 10 meeting.

The commission’s decision effectively killed the bill, since all pending legislation lapses at the end of Council’s four-year cycle.

O’Neill reintroduced the bill Jan. 23, and the Planning Commission recommended Council reject it. However, the commission’s recommendations are non-binding.

Council unanimously voted for the legislation. Members rarely go against a district councilperson on a district-specific bill. 

O’Neill said he expects Mayor Jim Kenney will sign the legislation.

As far as the hotel restrictions, civic associations in the Northeast have been grappling with developers trying to locate hotels in their neighborhoods.

In Bell’s Corner, a developer withdrew an application to build a hotel at 8430 Bustleton Ave. after residents flooded a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting.

Neighbors in Millbrook have also been wary of a proposal to bring a 122-room hotel to the Knights Road Shopping Center, 4000 Woodhaven Road. However, in that case, O’Neill and civic leaders have said there is little that can be done to stop the plan. The status and timeline of the project remain unclear.

O’Neill’s bill prohibits visitor accommodations from being built in a CA-2 zoning district within 1,000 feet of a residential area. The Woodhaven Road property is zoned CA-2. ••

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at jtomczuk@newspapermediagroup.com.