December PCPC Updates

Earlier this month the Philadelphia City Planning Commission gave their judgements on a few proposed legislations.  The PCPC gave a green light to a legislation that would allow the sale of the red brick pumping station at the foot of Race Street Pier to be sold to Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe.  The two organizations want to turn the building into a waterfront arts center.  the arts organizations plan to house a black box theater, two rehearsal studios, offices, and a bar and restaurant there.  The use is very consistent with what is proposed for the area, under the Central Delaware Master Plan.  The theater and studios will be active year round with artists from the region, around the U.S and abroad creating new works of contemporary dance, theater and music.

The PCPC said yes to Zoning Bill 100784, that would change the zoning of the former Edison High School building located at Eighth and Lehigh Avenue, from residential to area shopping center C-3 commercial.  The plan is to demolish the old high school, which is on the National Historic Register but does not have a local historic designation, therefore it can be torn down.  Developer Mosaic Development Partners plans to reuse a newer portion of the high school, transforming it into senior housing.  It also plans a 20,000 square foot grocery store and a take out restaurant with a drive-thru.  City Council however was not thrilled about the drive-thru restaurant part of the equation.

Commissioner approved Property Bill 10777, which accepts easements for at-grade crossings of the CSX railroad tracks at Race and Locust streets, and also an aerial easement for a pedestrian bridge over the tracks near 26th and Spruce streets, providing access to Schuylkill Banks Park.
-Property Bill 100779 which allows for a boardwalk to be built on the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia property between the Schuylkill River and CSX tracks, between the South Street Bridge and the CSX Railroad Bridge.


Mixed-Use Educational and Housing Facility in North Philadelphia

Philadelphia design firm WRT is designing a new mixed-use educational and residential facility in North Philadelphia for the organization Brighter Hope, a partnership of the Goldenberg Group and Bright Hope Baptist Church.  The project calls for the renovation of the former John Wanamaker Middle School for new Temple student housing and renovation of an existing gym and auditorium into a "green technologies center" and a charter school.

"The lively public realm and mix of users envisioned for this project take full advantage of its fortunate location between Temple University and the neighborhood, and between multiple regional rail lines and the Broad Street subway.  Creating a vibrant transit-oriented development at this significant town & gown location," said Antonio Fiol-Silva, a principal at WRT involved in the projects design.

The 4.5 acre site at 11th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue will contain housing for 2500 student residents.  Phase I of WRT's master plan calls for renovating the existing school for 600 beds in 180 units, as well as a new Green Construction Training Center and an Arts & Education Forum.  The project targets LEED Silver, maximizing the structures potential for adaptive re-use, and incorporating recycled content materials, energy efficient HVAC systems, and progressive storm water strategies.  Future phases include two new high-rise student residential structures, retail, a large open courtyard, and a structured parking facility.


Times Square In Philadelphia?

The Gallery and Market East are in need of a desperate facelift.  Developers and City Council seam to believe that large animated digital advertisements is exactly what the district needs.  A city council bill has been proposed that would create a commercial advertising district on Market, between 7th and 13th Streets.  The lighting, supporters say will draw tourists and convention goers to a new entertainment zone near the Gallery shopping mall.  Developers want invigorate Market East, envisioning it full of themed restaurants, sidewalk cafes, and movie theaters.  There is also talk of bringing in upscale "big-box retail stores" to draw Center City residents who now drive to South Philadelphia for their general household shopping, says Carl Primavera, and attorney who represents billboard companies.  In its current state Market East is underwhelming and underdeveloped, lacking the vitality that will entice conventioneers and tourists.

On the contrary opponents see this bill as a disaster.  They believe a potentially majestic and charming district will be totally stigmatized with chunky bill-boards and bright lights.  Philadelphia is not a second rate city and shouldn't result to desperate measures of imposing a false identity already branded by its big brother just 100 miles up north.  Philadelphia's brand has always been history, preservation and the arts.  That is why people visit this city.  As planners, preservationists, and developers who have an invested interest in the future of Philadelphia, we should be looking at innovative and exciting unique ways to enhance our city while still preserving and staying true to its identity, not settling for easy-fix, temporary, dated and potentially disastrous solutions just to make a quick buck.  When Philadelphia gets these rare opportunities to rebrand itself and make a statement to the world that we are a first class city with a lot of great personality, we settle for mediocre. We need to recognize the treasures we already have and enhance and celebrate them, not cover them up or taint them with false illusions.

When people visit Philadelphia they are looking for what makes Philadelphia different from any other city.  They ask themselves what is so special about Philadelphia that they can say to their family and friends at home, "You must go to Philadelphia to experience this!"  If we continue to borrow experiences instead of creating our own, we will continue to loose our credibility as a first class destination.  Lets run with the momentum of Green in 2015 and set our sights on becoming a global destination by 2035 with creative bold ideas that bridge commerce, history, entertainment, leisure, accessibility, education and livability.

Also check out "Bright Lights Big Mistake?"at Philly.com


Revamping South Delaware Waterfront

Despite future plans for a Foxwoods Casino at its proposed site at Columbus Boulevard and Reed Street, planners for the Delaware River waterfront imagine far greater potential for this section of the river.  With the bad press and out of control crime at the recently opened Sugarhouse Casino farther north up river, there is no wonder planners are looking past the casino option and envisioning a more communal, economic, and culturally balanced approach.  With a casino out of the way, the neighborhood would be more residential friendly welcoming future hotel options and retail.  The neighborhood would have great potential for being a destination place to live, work, and rest while visiting the city and sports arenas. Future light rail transportation connection from Port Richmond and Market Street to Oregon Ave, the Sports complex, and the Navy Yard will make the waterfront and its neighborhoods a viable and convenient place to live.

Planners imagine a restored wetland park based on the deteriorated piers from 53 to 70 with nesting platforms for osprey and eagles.  The area currently hosting Walmart and Home Depot will continue to host the big box stores, but will shrink to a more urban-friendly vertical form, with stores fronting Columbus Boulevard and underground parking or a well designed parking garage.  The freed land can allow streets to extend across the boulevard and host new residential developments creating a balance of residences, retail, and industry.  Neighboring retailers can follow suite with Target, Lowes, IKEA, and Best Buy also going vertical, stacking their facilities freeing up land for new development.  These solutions expand the lifespan of these large retailers creating healthy communities and a consistent supply of customers.

Downtown Dadeland near Miami


Fishtown: One Of America's Most Fuel Efficient Neighborhoods

Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood, located along the Delaware River has been listed as one of America's most fuel efficient neighborhoods according to a Forbes.com study.  With centrally located residences from hip lofts in converted warehouses hosting the next generation of artist, graphic designers, and entrepreneurs, to freshly renovated town homes and New Construction.  There's no wonder why the neighborhood is a magnet for young fast paste yuppie and hipsters commuting to Center City and Temple University.  Transportation cost are the second-lowest among neighborhoods in the 10 largest metropolitan neighborhoods.  Public transit ridership is at around 12%, with short commutes to Old City,Center City and close by Northern Liberties.


West Village Development

A new 86 Bi-level condo unit is shaping up in West Philadelphia.  The gated community, located at 48th and Brown Streets is comprised of 3 and 4 bedroom units ranging from 1380-1600 square-feet.  The development is decked out with a sustainable green roof, energy efficient window and appliances, and the city has even stamped on a 10-Year-Tax Abatement!  This is positive news for West Philadelphia Development, given the lack there of in one of the most efficient and accessible districts of Philadelphia.
Check it out at 800N48Street.com

New Setback Zoning for Central Delaware Riverfront

A new open space concept is developing for the Central Delaware Riverfront Master Plan.  Currently a 100-foot buffer is now required between development and the Delaware River.  This zoning law is part of a stop-gap piece of legislation meant to prevent any development from hindering the fruition of Philadelphia's vision for the waterfront until the more permanent Master Plan for the Central Delaware and affiliated zoning are in place.

Following advanced research, the team working on the Master Plan for the Central Delaware has decided against a 100-foot-buffer in favor of a smaller setback that tied together a string of parks.  CDAG members, Penn Praxis, and Development Workshop Executive Director Craig Schelter were quite pleased with the changes.  Designers feel that the objectives of public access, open space, ecological restoration, and storm water management could be better achieved by a different configuration of space.  The bulk of the open space would be consolidated into a series of parks, occurring about every half-mile along the six mile stretch between Oregon and Allegheny avenues and linked by a narrow setback of a minimum of 35 feet.  The open space would vary in size from just an acre or so to upwards of 17 acres.  The spacing would mean that residents of riverfront communities would have no more than a 10 minute walk to a park.

The new open space concept was developed from new research findings from OLIN Partnership, the landscape architecture firm that is part of the master planning team.  Among their findings, the team discovered that 100 feet is not enough space to get a large benefit for habitat restoration.  Research shows that 300 to 600 feet is more conducive to nurturing habitat.  With a combination of this research and the cost of maintaining a continuous 100 foot right-of-way, the new approach began to emerge.  Land will have to be acquired for the implementation of these parks which would be on target with Philadelphia's Green 2015 plan, which calls for the creation of 500 acres of new public open space.

Planners of the waterfront believe this configuration would also help convince developers to start creating the new waterfront, because the parks and trail would boost the development value of the land between the parks.
A public hearing will be held tomorrow September 18 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the Festival Pier at Penn's Landing to discuss changes and collect public Input.

Check out Planphilly for more on this.


Vacant & Desolate NO More! Reform to Come

Vacant Land in Philadelphia spreads far and wide and comes in all shapes and sizes.  One would assume that vacant property would be fairly easy to acquire because the city and neighbors should want someone to develop them hince improving the community and city as a whole.  But in Philadelphia, unless u are well connected or informed in the acquisition process of vacant properties it is a confusing and slow system to crack.  Both City Council and the Mayor say they want changes but the challenges are huge.
Navigating the system for vacant land is tedious but doable.  For developers, the time it takes to get title to these properties can often end deals.  Fortunately, due to lack of development in recent years, City Hall has shown a renewed interest in making it easier for interested builders to get vacant land.  Last week following a forum at Temple University, Councilman Darrell Clark introduced legislation in city council that would give the city powers to seize the assets of property owners who failed to repair blighted properties.  Clack took the initiative because he didn't get a sense that these things were being prioritized at a level that he and other members of council were comfortable with.  This will take a high level of attention for the city to make significant progress on vacant land management.

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One big fix favored by many non-profit developers and policy experts is the creation of a land bank, a central repository of all city-owned land,  with one list of available parcels and a single process for acquiring those properties.  The city has started by mapping abandonment.  This will be a great task but with a lot of effort it can be done.  Although there are many agencies that have records of vacant lands, their list don't match up.  Some list say there are 40,000 properties, while other say 60,000.  Clark and many others would like the city to take immediate action, instead of taking months or years to get the city record books in order.

See Planphilly for a nice article on this issue.


Proposed I-95 Condemnation Corridor

Zoning bill No. 100553 allows owners of buildings, parking lots, and other existing uses to rebuild anywhere that is within 350 feet of their former location and 200 feet from either side of the expanded highway right of way without going through the usual zoning permitting process.  This legislation stands regardless of the zoning that exist in the area the displaced property owner chooses to relocate to, unless the new site is in a residential district.

The Goal of the bill is to preserve jobs and tax revenue.  The widening of I-95 will result in the condemnation of many properties abutting the Interstate, this would mean the lost of hundreds of jobs and taxes, therefore the bill is proposed to encourage and aid in the continuation of business with minimal dislocation and interruption.  If this bill is adopted, it would create an I-95 Condemnation Corridor that would stretch the entire length of I-95 in the city and also include all arterial streets, collector streets, and ramps within the area.  Its width would be set at 200 feet from both of Penn DOT's rights of way.

The bill basically allows anyone who is condemned by I-95 to relocate within that 400 foot corridor without going through all the normal zoning notions.  The new, relocated use or structure cannot exceed the size, height or square footage of the one it is replacing.  There are a lot of questions the Planning Commission still needs to address such as the distance of the billboards, industrial, and parking structure in relation to existing and displaced residential properties and how the relocation will effect existing communities that will consume the displaced tenants.


Philly Developer May Bank $100 Million in State Funds

Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein of the Piazza and other developments in Norther Liberties may be the recipient of almost $100 million in state money to fund his proposed shovel ready projects for Northern Liberties.  Blatstein is set to receive $45 million for a new hotel-mixed-use project near his Piazza at Schmidt's development; $25 million to build an 86-suite, boutique hotel at Second and Poplar Streets; and another $25 million to redevelop a state office building at Broad and Spring Garden.  Of course with all this state money being thrown around there are bound to be critics.  Some believe that in the midst of a state recession and steep cuts in social-service programs and funding for libraries and state parks, these capital dollars should go toward public projects.  Blatstein believes these projects will create lots of jobs and tax revenue, fueling future development in developing neighborhoods.

I personally am all for it!  Although our transit projects (City Hall Station) need a lot of money as well as projects like the Free Library expansion and Dilworth Plaza renovations.  There is hopefully enough money to go around for everyone to get a piece of the pie.

Check out philly.com for more