Too much time to plan the waterfront, or not enough?

Philadelphia Daily News

by Earni Young

The Street administration has never grasped the truth of the adage, “Life is what happens while you plan it.”

The formation of the Central Delaware Advisory Group is an example. The new group has a year to ponder the waterfront and come up with a master plan for redevelopment. A lot can happen in a year - especially in the construction industry, where time is literally money. Janice Woodcock, newly minted executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, got a taste of the year to come at her first commission meeting last week. The PCPC had previously supported rezoning for the site of the proposed Bridgeman’s View condominium, hotel and galleria proposed for Delaware Avenue between Poplar and Laurel streets. Developer Marc F. Stein came back last Wednesday seeking similar support on his application to rezone an additional parcel for construction of a 15-story parking garage. Stein and his team were in a rush because they need the PCPC’s support before going before the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Nov. 1. However, the PCPC’s staff asked commissioners to table Stein’s request so planners could review the garage plan and determine its impact on Delaware Avenue before making a recommendation.

Woodcock seconded her staff’s request but for different reasons. As a member of the mayor’s new waterfront advisory group, Woodcock indicated it might be best for the PCPC to delay action on any new waterfront proposals until the task force comes up with its master plan - a year from now. Stein visibly blanched at the idea of such a lengthy delay. He and his lawyers were polite but insistent that the commission vote immediately and affirmatively. Stein noted that several buildings proposed for Delaware Avenue have been canned. “We’ve stayed in the mix under enormous pressure,” Stein noted. “We feel like we’re getting tripped up.” In the end, the commissioners voted to support the rezoning request pending the staff review.

Woodcock, an architect and planner by training, emphasized that she doesn’t want to call a halt to waterfront development, but she does face something of a quandary - how to balance the demands of projects already in the pipeline while crafting a blueprint to guide future growth. “We recognize that we can’t stop dead in the water while the advisory group gets organized,” Woodcock said. “At the same time, we all recognize that there would be such a value to the plan that we would be able to be reasonable. “If you have a blueprint for sharing the public asset, when everybody builds you will have good design.”

Stein said he has no problem with that. “We were behind the waterfront plan a year and a half ago, and we are here to help move that plan forward,” Stein said. But after 18 months of negotiating to win the support of community groups for his mega-complex, Stein is unwilling to lose momentum. “We simply want to get the zoning change so that we can get started,” he said.

The advisory group also may have to deal with two skyscrapers planned by Hoboken Brownstone at Delaware Avenue just north of Spring Garden, and the 42-story Trump Tower. In addition, one or two slot parlors may open up on the Delaware between Allegheny and Oregon avenues before Easter.

Meanwhile, the Delaware River City Corp. is reaping the benefits of 10 years of careful planning to redevelop the river shoreline from Allegheny north to Linden Avenue. The group received a $1.3 million check from the state on Friday to complete two sections of an 8-mile greenway and recreational trail along the river’s edge. Patrick Starr, vice president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, which helped craft the recently released North Delaware Riverfront Greenway Plan, said the promise of the recreational trail has helped spur redevelopment of brownfield industrial sites for residential use.

Large-scale residential developments are in the planning stages for the former Northern Shipping site, the former Tacony Army Depot, the old Dodge Steel plant and the Philadelphia Coke site. “Not one developer who has come in with a proposal has not included public access on the river, because we have it all spelled out,” Starr said. “The political leadership here is insisting that developers do what’s in the plan.”

Cathy Califano, chief of staff for the Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development and a member of the Delaware River City Corp., said some developers on the north Delaware are footing the bill for a portion of the trail that crosses their land. A nonprofit - possibly a special-services district - will be created to generate revenue to maintain the completed trail, she said.

The $1.3-million grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will be used in part to extend the trail from its current termination point at Pennypack on the Delaware (Rhawn Street and State Road) to the mouth of Pennypack Creek. Some of the money will be used to create another riverfront park at Lardner’s Point - the first new park to be added to the Fairmount Park system in a decade.

© 2006 Philadelphia Daily News and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.


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