Preserving E Mt Airy’s Neighborhood Character, Lessons From E Sharpnack St’s Building Boom


The goal of this paper and on-going discussions is to see if we can learn from the most recent construction in our area and develop a set of lessons that can be used to develop plans to help preserve the desirable characteristics of our older neighborhoods while they are being rebuilt.   

In this paper I have tried to summarize the current building boom on E Sharpnack St to draw some lessons learned for the broader E Mt Airy area.  Specifically, what role do Philadelphia’s current RSA5 zoning provisions play in the E Sharpnack St building boom and whether specific RSA5 provisions are hurting the character of older pre-1933 neighborhoods like E Sharpnack St.

The paper summarizes recent demolitions and construction along E Sharpnack St from Germantown Ave to Chew Ave and tries to understand how today’s RSA5 requirements are hurting the character of this street by increasing pressures for replacement of small, 2-story, older mill worker houses with little or no front setbacks with larger, property line to property line, no front setback 3-story buildings. 

This picture shows the resulting “canyon” effect on E Sharpnack at Magnolia that the existing RSA5 zoning provisions have caused on this narrow 40-ft street.

Front and side yard setbacks requirements in our RSA5 districts with narrow streets needs to be rethought or we will wind up with many other intersections like this.

The paper identifies a very preliminary list of 10 provisions that could help address E Mt Airy’s neighborhood preservation needs in our pre-1933 RSA5 neighborhoods. I have also laid out a simple 4-step process that local neighborhood groups could follow to begin bringing local attention to the potential long-term impacts of our building boom on our older neighborhoods.

Philadelphia Zoning Code and Your Neighborhood: MALT Class, Fall 2022. Registration link here.


  1. Important Zoning Links
  2. PHL Zoning Code, Title 14: Link
  3. PHL Zoning Code, Title 14, Outline: Link
  4. PHL Zoning Code, Quick Guide, September 2022: Link
  5. Strawberry Mansion Overlay District: Link
  6. Upper NW 2035 Plan, 2018: Link
  7. Upper NW 2035 Plan – 2022 Update: LinkLink(opens in a new tab)
  8. PHL ZBA Variance Criteria for Approval: Link
  9. List of PHL Variance Criteria for Approval: Link

Class 1: Oct. 5, 2022Link(opens in a new tab)

  1. Class Notes: Link
  2. Slides: Link
  3. Property Research: Links

Class 2: Oct 12, 2022 Lecture Link

Class 3: Oct 19, 2022 Lecture Link