“Casino process needs sunshine”

June 4

Praxis planners layed out the most specific ideas to date concerning the elements that are forming the construct of the draft of a Vision Plan Report for seven miles of the Delaware Riverfront at Monday’s meeting of the Central Delaware Advisory Group (see pdf of the visioning plan). The Vision Plan Report will help translate civic values into a blueprint that local and state government can use to craft public policy and focus on public and private investments in the 21st century.

Praxis also spent the first hour of the monthly meeting listening to advisory group members and civic association advocates who felt betrayed by the city, the mayor and planning commission following recent news developments affecting planning and permitting requirements for the proposed SugarHouse Casino.

Two weeks ago, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission endorsed SugarHouse on two matters: its design and development review, and a zoning change to the “Commercial Entertainment District” designation required to proceed.

Last week, outgoing city councilman Juan Ramos introduced a bill that calls for the Sugarhouse site to be rezoned to “Commercial Entertainment District,” a new category tailor-made to accommodate waterfront casinos. It must pass both a first and second reading, and will likely be the subject of a public hearing. It should be noted the SugarHouse site is in Frank DiCicco’s council district.

Monday, many advisory group members said they felt the planning commission was operating outside of public view, did not give concerned citizens adequate notice of the meeting, and simply rubber stamped the SugarHouse plan. They said the perceived lack of an open and transparent agenda around the casino siting process in general was creating a credibility crisis for the Central Delaware Waterfront planners. Some even called for Planning Director Janice Woodcock to resign from the Central Delaware Riverfront planning process.  

“I have defended this process to people in my association to the point where now I almost feel like an idiot,” said John Scorsone of River’s Edge Community Association.  “We need an honest broker. A lot was going on behind the scenes and Janice was not forthcoming. We can’t tolerate being kept in the dark.”

David Schaaf, sitting in for Woodcock who was out of town on business, defended the planning commission’s interaction with SugarHouse developers saying it had produced significant victories in progressive design, public access and environmental controls.   

Steven Weixler of the Society Hill Civic Association, called on Praxis Director Harris Steinberg to compose a letter on behalf of the Central Delaware Advisory Group in support of an open and transparent casino planning process that would be read before city council June 12. That advisory group resolution passed with 11 yes votes to 1 no vote. Four members abstained.

Afterwards, Weixler said taking a stand on creating an open casino siting process will keep the integrity of the Praxis riverfront project intact. “We have this once in a lifetime opportunity to do something right and make a difference on the waterfront.” he said. “This Praxis process should not be seen as a cover for the process to approve casinos.”

Steinberg asked for initial feedback from the group on the draft outline of the vision plan report being prepared for the planning and civic engagement process.

Among concerns:

1. Take into account views from the water onto the seven mile stretch of land.

2. Don’t ignore potential for a Camden development and planning connection.

3. Make sure there is more citizen participation and permanent oversight on the plans.

4. Don’t forget the historic connections along the seven mile stretch.

5. Can we put a stake in the ground? Are there any real projects that can be started now?

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