Monday, July 8, 2013

Norristown Zoning 101

Come to the Zoning Workshops
Wed., July 10, 2013, 6 pm
Municipal Hall, 235 E. Airy St.

Subsequent dates:
· Thursday Aug 1st 2013 at 6 p.m - County Human Services Building, 1430 Dekalb St
· Thursday Aug 8th 2013 at 6 p.m – Hancock Fire Company, 820 W. Airy St.
· Thursday Aug 29st 2013 at 6 p.m – Municipal Hall, 235 E. Airy St.

Here's why you should go:

Above is the current zoning map for Norristown. The workshops are to explain proposed zoning changes. Now, I'd agree that the current zoning is a bit out-of-date. For instance, our "healthcare" district (in purple) is now our "abandoned building" district. Our "town center" district (light blue--what logical people call "downtown," because it's not in the center, but downhill from most of the rest of town) could now more properly be labeled our "empty lots" district.

Most of the proposed changes relate to the shades of yellow and orange, our primary residential districts. You can access the whole list of zoning codes here, but here's the gist:

Lightest yellow, R-A = "single-family detached dwellings on large lots. This district is intended to preserve the unique character of these areas, to protect and enhance neighborhood qualities and to ensure that future development will blend well with existing structures."

Bright yellow, R-1 = "single-family detached dwellings... intended to protect, stabilize, conserve and enhance neighborhood qualities and that will ensure that future development, in both new and rehabilitated structures, will blend well with the existing neighborhood character." (You'll note as the lots get smaller, "unique character" is no longer a concern).

Light yellow, R-1A = basically the same as R-1, but allows for semi-detached single-family dwellings. Since I live in an R-1A district, I can attest that whoever made up this map never visited the neighborhoods. We have many row homes as well as semi-detached, and the occasional detached. But, at least the vast majority are still single family.

Orange, R-2 = "single- and two-family dwellings", with the same clause about protecting neighborhood character. The single dwellings can be attached but not more than a row of 8 houses, and must have "vehicular access to the rear of homes."  The two-family homes are supposed to be detached, and originally designed for two families.

Apartment buildings go in the brown areas. Multi-family houses go in the olive green areas.

At this point, if you live in Norristown, you're thinking that these definitions have no foundation in reality.  For one thing, the multi-family dwellings somehow escaped their confines and spread out through the other districts. In some cases, out-of-town landlords came in and split up houses illegally, but many of these landlords were given zoning variances and the blessing of whomever was in Council at the time. In many cases, like the ugly block apartment building 2 blocks from me, "existing neighborhood character" be damned.

Here's the map of proposed zoning changes:

R-A is now called R-1, but their "unique character" seems to remain undisturbed. The major changes are that most other residential areas are now orange, labeled R-3. They want to combine most of the old "districts" into one homogenous glob. And from the definitions above, it's safe to assume that the higher the number of your zoning, the more population they want to cram into those spaces, with all the parking, trash, noise and slum-landlord problems that come with it. Not to mention a decrease in property value.

Council president Gary Simpson told a group of Norristonians that "most of the housing is a mixed bag." I got the impression that he only sees housing on paper and doesn't understand the unique character of each neighborhood. Maybe he hasn't spent enough time in each one.

So think about what you want your neighborhood to become, then come to one of the Zoning Workshops. After that, make sure you tell all 7 members of Council your opinions.


  1. Elena,
    Great post. I like your commentary. Where did it come from?
    I've been looking for the text that goes with the maps. Hopefully copies will be made available for public review.

    keep up the good work.

    1. The current zoning definitions above are listed on the Municipal website at The new definitions haven't been released to the public yet (one would assume they will be at the July 10th meeting. My council person did say that the lot sizes for new construction are

      R1 - Lot size is 20,000 sq. ft, Lot width is 100 ft.
      R2 - Lot size is 10,000 sq. ft, Lot width is 75 ft
      R3 - Lot size is 4,000 sq. ft, Lot width is 40 ft

      I assume that's maximum, since most N-town lots are much small than 4,000 sq.ft.