Stream Buffers Update

No Decision Made at 10/31/12 Rules Committee Meeting

The Philadelphia City Council Rules Committee heard testimony on Buffer Ordinance #120654 on October 31, 2012. This ordinance would update the Zoning Code to require a minimum 50-foot setback from the top of the bank of all rivers and streams in the city.

Approximately 20 people came out to testify in support of the bill. Many cited the environmental and social benefits of riverfront setbacks and noted that this recommendation was a result of a compromise reached during the 4-year process to update the City's Zoning Code. The proposed legislation was also agreed to by a working group of several interested parties, including SRDC, earlier this year.

Despite the cited benefits of stream setbacks and the 50-foot minimum buffer agreed to by those involved in the zoning process and working group, Councilman Henon's office has introduced some amendments that would create significant "loopholes" in the legislation that significantly negate the buffer concept, including one which would reduce the setback along the entire river frontage of a property that had an existing building within 50 feet of the shore. The Councilman has also introduced an alternate set of amendments that, while not as strong as the unamended legislation, keeps a bit more within the spirit of the buffer concept.

After hearing testimony from those present, Committee Chair Greenlee announced that the hearing on this issue would continue on Wednesday, November 14.

Moving Forward

SRDC and its partners will continue to work with Council and other interested parties to reach a mutually agreeable bill over the next two weeks, but we need your help to ensure that industry and development are kept away from riverbanks, protecting the quality of our drinking water, filtering toxins, preventing flooding and allowing for future recreational trails along our streams and rivers.

You can Defend Stream Buffers

City Council needs to see and hear from you! Let council know that we need legislation that preserves the letter as well as the spirit and intention of the buffer concept.

Testify before the Rules Committee

Please come to City Council hearing at 10 am on Wednesday, November 14 (City Hall Room 400) to support the unamended version of Buffer Ordinance #120654. We need to show a strong force at the conclusion of this hearing - the more people we have testifying in support of a loophole-free bill, the better!

Submit Written Testimony

If you aren't able to come to the meeting, you can submit written testimony to Councilman Greenlee's office (, copying in your District Council Member (find your district council person here) and the rest of the Rules Committee (,,,,,,,

Be sure to note that you are in support of a loophole-free version of Buffer Ordinance #120654.

Talking Points

The most important thing to include in your testimony is that you support an ordinance without any loopholes that would negate the benefits of having buffers on all rivers and streams.

Additional talking points you may want to include are:

  • Buffers help control storm water and protect property in the event of hurricanes.
  • The 50-foot buffer dimension was a compromise. A 100-foot buffer would be better, and I urge you to revert to the 100-foot dimension.
  • Buffers are required in other major cities, such as Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, Pittsburgh and Washington DC. This is not just some wild idea thought up by some crazy environmentalists in Philadelphia.
  • Buffers were included in the Zoning Code approved in December 2011. This was the result of four years of transparent work by many parties. Why is this being attacked now?
  • Waterfront setbacks preserve the possibility of a waterfront trail and greenway. This makes total sense and all Philadelphians should rally behind this.
  • This city always talks about the environment and sustainability. Here is an opportunity to act on what we say we believe in.
  • Buffers help protect property from flooding - the kind of flooding we saw with Hurricane Sandy but also the more common flooding and erosion that comes with heavy thunderstorms.

The future of a continuous Schuylkill River Trail may well rest on the outcome of this Committee vote. Tell Council you support this Bill!