The myriad departments overseeing property development in Philadelphia have acted like islands, marooned on different floors of government buildings. But a recent tidal shift has ended their isolation: the new Department of Planning & Development unites all of the city’s property-related divisions into one cohesive archipelago.
The consolidated department, led by Anne Fadullon, ties the city’s planning, zoning, development, and housing groups under one organization. Fadullon and other Planning & Development officials spoke before the Design Advocacy Group at the Center for Architecture + Design on Thursday, expounding on the purpose of the new department and its current projects before a small crowd of architects, developers, planners and other inquiring minds.
The umbrella group has been in the works since the spring of 2015, and was officially initiated by Mayor Kenney on July 1st, although it has functioned as an ad hoc department for over a year. PlanPhilly first broke the news of the official reorganization last month.
“The development process in Philadelphia was disjointed,” before the reshuffle, said Paul Chrystie, deputy director of communications for the newly formed department. “We wanted it to be smoother and more cohesive.”
Under its three branches, the department encompasses several smaller, existing agencies, including the City Planning Commission’s staff, the Art Commission, Developer Services, and the Zoning Board of Adjustment. While the subdivisions will retain control over the minutia of their specific portfolios, the Planning & Development department will offer sweeping guidance based on citywide trends, investment and public data. The creation of comprehensive housing guidelines in Philadelphia is a primary objective.
“We’re going to look at everything from long-term homeless to bajillion dollar condos,” said Fadullon. “We’re going to take a look at this and try to come up with an overall strategy so that we have a housing policy.”
Should the department succeed in creating such an encompassing housing plan, it may inspire copycats in Harrisburg, said Fadullon. ”Hopefully we can be a good example, and maybe, someday, we’ll have a state housing policy.”
The department is currently working to facilitate a mixed-use building, and ameliorate the tenant eviction crisis, and also maintain affordable tracks of housing in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods—and that’s only some of housing-related work. In total, they are tracking over 250 developments across the city.
Fadullon, the inaugural director, has experience in both the private and public sector. She previously worked for the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and served on the Civic Design Review committee, in addition to a long stint at the Dale Corporation. In her presentation, she emphasized her department’s holistic approach to evaluation.
The freshly rechartered department hopes to act as a tugboat, navigating Philadelphia through the murky waters of rising house prices and booming development while maintaining the city’s historical structures and established neighborhoods.