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By Matt Golas
The three-day, lightning-round, PennPraxis workshop analyzing how two licensed Delaware Riverfront casinos, as well as any large development, can be designed to meet the guidelines of the City-endorsed Civic Vision and Action Plan for the Central Delaware concluded Thursday morning with preliminary recommendations from national experts in transportation, traffic, ecology, urban design and sustainability.
In order to gain on-the-ground knowledge, the panel interacted with local and state administrators as well as issue specific and citizen stakeholders during day 2 of the event.
The expert team included architectural designer Tim Magill, who brought a charrette-like feeling to the event through his quick sketches of Foxwoods and SugarHouse infrastructure improvements; landscape architect Jose Alminana, who preached a consistent approach to a 100-foot riparian border that would help us “honor the river”; traffic engineers Walter Kulash, Frank Jaskiewicz, and Daniel Plottner, who promoted the idea that the waterfront really needs an urban traffic volume experience to make it pedestrian friendly, and architect Peter Steinbrueck, a former Seattle, Wash. city councilman who is a leader in the field of sustainable growth.
On June 26, Praxis was asked by Mayor Michael Nutter to prepare an independent, third-party analysis of the current casino site plans relative to the Civic Vision of the Central Delaware and the Action Plan for the Central Delaware: 2008-2018. Praxis Director Harris Steinberg said the report will be sent to the mayor Friday Aug. 8.
The workshop opened with the group concluding that the two casinos are not currently compatible with the “civic values, principles and design guidelines” put forth in the Praxis vision of a redeveloped waterfront. (See previous story here: http://www.planphilly.com/node/3607.)
By the end of three days, the panel had begun to flesh out scenarios that would create a path to compliance for the casinos – or any large development on the river – around four crucial topics: traffic and transportation, urban design, ecology and sustainability. Some big bullet points were:
• Make development scale comply with walk-able street grid
• Slow down the traffic to create urban experience for pedestrians
• Hide the parking garages
• Honor the ecology of the river
• Sustainable development can save money
Here’s a more complete but very rough outline of anticipated corrective outcomes.
Traffic and Transportation:
1. What does a multi-modal formula for movement on the waterfront look like?
Phase multi-modal traffic in order to create “celebratory” bus portals; create bus rapid transit lanes; make pedestrian improvements on Reed and Shackamaxon Streets; upgrade bike lanes; use water taxis.
2. What policies might we recommend?
Permit parking. Auto users contribute traffic impact fees based on trip generation. Eliminate perceived requirement that any development must improve existing traffic situation. Stop the perpetual cycle of creating more congestion by creating more capacity.
3. How to address phasing public transportation?
Accelerate design work and planning of rail system. Extend present bus routes to the riverfront. Elevate riders’ experience by improving condition, feel of bus stops. Connect casinos with a shuttle.
4. How many cars do we allow on waterfront?
Limit Phase I of casino plans to four-fifths of total or 2,400 cars and then take wait-and-see-approach in the event more parking is not needed for Phases II and III. Remote parking for casino employees. Think about how to reduce auto footprint through automated parking.
5. How to improve the pedestrian experience?
Streets built at 500-foot block scale. Reduce curb cuts. Continuous ground floor retail and mixed use. Crosswalks at all intersections. Ability to cross in one light sequence. More generous sidewalk area. Shrink and civilize valet parking and casino arrival courtyards. Appropriately light and landscape streets.
1. How does massing of new developments work with vision plan?
Invoke 500-foot public access and street network. Separate parking from casinos. Leave 30-40 percent of property as open space. Consider mid-block corridor. Balance mix of uses through projects that create more urban environment as part of the public realm.
2. Can we develop vertical gaming floors and move away from the big-box concept?
Vertical footprints are a better use of the land. The trend is toward multi-flagged development featuring variety of places in one spot.
3. How do we connect development to its contextual neighbors?
Create activities and attractions all along the riverfront. Activate streets through a parallel street network. Accommodate vibrant multimodal riverfront not auto capacity.
4. How to integrate transportation, ecological and sustainable systems?
Streets are part of the public realm and should be designed so they are environmentally sustainable. Reduce impervious surfaces. Remediate storm water runoff. Push local government for green strategies and initiatives.
1. How to measure the ecological impact of development?
Generate conditions around open space, going green, LEED certification, water issues, carbon footprint issues that, by the end of development, will ensure we have something better in those areas than what we have today. Naturalize the river’s edge.
2. What standards do we use to create ecologically responsible development on land and at the river’s edge?
Soften the transition between the public domain and the river, especially on the edge. Take full advantage of restoration activities. Insist on 100-foot riparian setback because it is last chance to manage storm water before it goes into the river. Create pervious paving, natural habitats. Make places perform ecologically. Take advantage of solar energy.
3. Are there other factors to consider?
Impact of flooding and global warming.
1. How to define and measure sustainability within the context of the site and the city?
It’s all encompassing. Consider transportation, material, building design, culture, heritage with examples such as percent of energy generated on site; how to handle waste reduction; the use of local and recycled materials on the site; how water is managed on site; make LEED silver as a minimum requirement for building on site; renewable energy to power slots machines; consider density and FAR incentives.
The casinos’ point of view
The presidents of both casinos declined invitations to the workshop from Steinberg in strongly worded replies that said their presence would be pointless, since Steinberg had stated publicly several times that he and Praxis were against the casinos ever breaking ground.
But Steinberg stressed that he’s not anti-casino, and that Tuesday evening’s conclusion that the casinos were incompatible meant “only as currently designed.” His goal, he said, is to tease out how these projects, on these sites, can contribute to the overall Praxis vision and action plan, endorsed last month by Mayor Nutter.
Foxwoods and SugarHouse have had an entirely different relationship with City Hall since the change in administrations, and contend that permits have been intentionally stalled by order of Nutter. They cite nothing but favorable decisions from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the state Supreme Court.
“There have been at least five different traffic studies, including ones by the Mayor’s Gaming Advisory Task Force, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, SugarHouse, Foxwoods, and the City Council,” according to information on the SugarHouse web site.
On the Foxwoods web site, the owners say the casino “supports the city’s long-term goal of economically reinvigorating the remainder of the riverfront, and will provide public access to the river.” For its first-phase development, it lists restaurant and lounge venues open to the public, fine dining, sports bars, a 2,000-seat showroom, retail shops, a 4,200-space parking garage and a riverside walkway, in addition to the 3,000 slot machines.
“This has been a neutral analysis that has been an exercise independent of use,” Steinberg said as the event wrapped up. “The report that’s issued will be used as a political tool by various constituencies, so it’s important to be sure about ‘What would it look like for a casino on that site to comply?’” with the civic vision and action plans. “I think this is a new day and we are covering new ground and creating a higher standard for developing the waterfront – and eventually the whole of Philadelphia.”
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SugarHouse web site: http://www.sugarhousecasino.com/home/index.php
Foxwoods web site: http://www.foxwoods.com/AboutFoxwoods/FDC_foxwoodsphiladelphia.aspx