Published on August 25 2017

Zoning is essential to the waterfront to guide development to meet the recommendations of the Master Plan for the Central Delaware. Below are the basics on the current Central Delaware overlay so you have what you need to be able to engage with the process of updating the overlay.  

  • The Central Delaware Overlay guides development east of I-95 from Oregon Avenue in Whitman to Allegheny Avenue in Port Richmond

  • The overlay establishes a system of “river access streets,” based off of proposed “connector streets” from the Master Plan for the Central Delaware, which are defined as significant streets that pass underneath I-95 and terminate at a key waterfront destination (current or planned). The Master Plan for the Central Delaware defined 32 primary and secondary connector streets (we could link to a map from the plan here) but not all connector streets are deemed river access streets in the CDO. Currently they are: Dickinson Street, Washington Avenue, Christian Street, Race Street, Callowhill Street, Spring Garden Street, Frankford Avenue, and Columbia Avenue. Expanding the number of river access streets for greater connectivity is one of the items we’re looking at in the next phase.

  • The overlay requires active ground floor uses in key locations: encouraging buildings to have visible uses such as retail on the first floor for a better pedestrian experience, with entrances on the Delaware Ave./Columbus Boulevard or river access  streets if applicable.

  • The overlay offers height bonuses for buildings on Delaware Ave./Columbus Blvd. and key connector streets that provide access to the river which have the following:

  • The Central Delaware was planned to be just like the city itself - a mix of uses for the most vibrant, human scaled environment possible.  In the past, the waterfront was mostly industrial, and in some previous plans it’s been seen as an entertainment district The current overlay is agnostic to use because the master plan calls for the forms of the buildings to accommodate myriad uses and create the most vibrant public realm possible

  • The exception to this is vehicle sales and services use category, including gas stations, on river access streets or Columbus Blvd.. If the waterfront is going to be an enjoyable place for pedestrians, development needs to be at a human scale, and auto-oriented uses can’t be allowed to dominate. They’re good for some parts of the city, but with a beautiful environmental resource like the river, the land is far too valuable to make it for cars rather than people.  

  • The overlay offers height bonuses – one of the key issues developers and a focus of the press coverage of the updating process. The current overlay has a 100-foot height limit (or approximately 9 stories tall). The master plan’s economic consultants recommended a height limit to ensure the buildings being constructed would meet the projected absorption rate for residential units on the waterfront, estimated at approximately 250 units a year, rather than one or two taller projects that would prevent other development from happening. To go above this limit, a developer can choose from menu of height bonuses in the zoning code to get a maximum of an additional 144 feet, for a total of 244 feet (roughly 24 stories). Bonuses are offered for public art, green building, transit, public space, trail connections, retail space, street extensions, and affordable housing. In future posts we’ll dig into each of these.


In addition to the CDO, there are other regulations which impact development on the waterfront. One of the most significant is the Waterfront Setback subsection of the Open Space and Natural Resources section of the zoning code], which was passed around the same time as the CDO. It restricts construction of new buildings within 50’ of the top of bank of any river or stream in the city.

In addition, DRWC is planning to clarify that setbacks in the general waterfront overlay do not generally apply to piers, where a 50’ setback on all sides would render the pier undevelopable. While this regulation is not included in the Central Delaware Overlay, it’s important at this point to ensure the overall zoning regulation is clear because we want to encourage high quality development on those piers which are able to support it.  

In the next post, we’ll update you on the process, and the key decision points to be made in the revision process and how they relate to the goals of the master plan.  Thanks for reading.