A variety of Delaware riverfront development stakeholders suspect that developers have sought zoning variances in order to jack up the prices of the land they own, making it more lucrative to sell them undeveloped than to actually develop them. The fact that zoning variances (which allow developers exceptions to the basic zoning code for the area) stay attached to the property itself means that developers can turn huge profits on waterfront land without actually building anything.
In recent years the development of Philadelphia's waterfront has become a huge priority: the city even created the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation to consolidate Delaware waterfront redevelopment resources into one organization. The Central Delaware Advocacy Group was formed in 2006 to promote development along the Delaware. They've had some great successes: ongoing work on the Pier 53 park is one great example of recent waterfront development.
But even though these groups and other stakeholders are working hard to make the riverfront an attractive locale for development, serious obstacles stand in their way. The highway that separates the rest of the city from the waterfront is certainly one of them. But perhaps property zoning speculation is another, more serious issue.
What's wrong with increased waterfront property values? The land can become so expensive that it doesn't make financial sense to develop it, because the costs are too high. If that happens, the land will stay vacant.
Though most city officials and waterfront development advocates agree that the current variance set-up doesn't serve the goal of promoting development (on the Delaware waterfront or elsewhere), changing the set up may not be feasible. Land use rights are dictated by the state, not the city. A possible solution would be to put time limits on zoning variances (otherwise known as a sunset clause).
· [Plan Philly]