Next up in casino siting process

Holy Redeemer protest

Foxwoods process timeline

Oct. 10
By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

The public will have at least three more opportunities to comment on the proposed location of Foxwoods Casino at The Gallery this month – and if last Thursday night’s Chinatown meeting is any indication, those sessions will all be packed with passionate citizens.

* On Tuesday, a meeting similar to the one held in Chinatown took place at Jefferson University Alumni Hall, 1020 Locust St.

* On Oct. 21, the Planning Commission will consider and hold a public hearing on the creation and placement of zoning that would allow a casino to operate at The Gallery. This is called a Commercial Entertainment District.

* In late October, on a date yet to be set, a public forum to discuss casino design – particularly urban casino design – will be conducted at the city’s request, but by organizations that are outside the government.

* On Nov. 1, City Council will hold a public hearing on the CED legislation. The time and place have yet to be determined. The unusual weekend day is an intentional attempt to make it possible for more interested people to attend.

Councilman Frank DiCicco will submit legislation to rezone the Gallery to a Commercial Entertainment District at Thursday’s City Council meeting.

There is never a public comment period when legislation is introduced, spokesman Brian Abernathy said – that will come Nov. 1. (Read memo from Abernathy here)

The residents of Chinatown pleaded with DiCicco Thursday night not to introduce the legislation, but he said it was necessary to keep the State Supreme Court from getting involved – SugarHouse received its CED designation on Delaware Avenue from the High Court, which ruled that the city had been dragging its feet. This took power away from the city, DiCicco said, but by going forward with a process, elected leaders and officials will get a say.

The submission of legislation starts the review process of the proposal by City Council and the Planning Commission, and either body could say no, Abernathy said.

This CED will be different from the one created for the riverfront casino sites. Some tinkering is still happening, Abernathy said, but two differences are parking and set-back requirements.

The waterfront site is not well-served by public transportation and required many parking spaces. Market East is a public transit hub. And The Gallery has adjacent parking lots. There will still technically be a parking requirement, Abernathy said, but Foxwoods would likely not have to create additional parking spaces to meet it.

There will also be no setback requirement. For one thing, The Gallery is an existing building, Abernathy said. But even if it weren’t, “in Center City, a setback doesn’t make sense. We want to maintain an active street” with buildings nestled right up to the sidewalk.

Officials from Foxwoods and the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, which leases the Gallery, are still working on their development plans for the casino, Deputy Mayor and Planning Commission Chairman Andy Altman said. It may not be ready by the Oct. 21 Planning Commission meeting, Altman said. “The plan doesn’t have to be ready” because the discussion will be limited to the CED legislation and placement.

The late October public forum is being put together by incoming Planning Commission executive director Alan Greenberger – even though he doesn’t officially start the job until November. He could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon, but Altman said the forum also will take place with or without the designs.

“It will be more of an open forum looking at design issues and other examples from other locations,” he said. “We want to educate ourselves and the public” and examine what kinds of design and planning issues should be taken into consideration, what can be learned from other places that have urban casinos – such as New Orleans – and what changes are happening in casino design.

The input and ideas that come out of that meeting – and the other public forums – will be used to help guide the Planning Commission and City Council in what it looks for from Foxwoods and PREIT, Altman said.  “It would also be good for Foxwoods and PREIT, who could apply what comes out of these meetings to their designs.”

Another round of Council and Planning Commission consideration and associated public hearings will begin when those designs are in hand, and when those hearings begin is dependent on when Foxwoods and PREIT have plans to submit, Altman said.

“Both the Planning Commission and City Council have to approve the plan of development. We still have ample opportunity to determine it isn’t appropriate,” Abernathy said. Foxwoods could also decide the Gallery won’t work for them.

Foxwoods officials have said they would consider another alternative if this one doesn’t work out, but they would have the legal right to go back to the site they still own on the river – something the city does not want.

Terry Gillen, special advisor to Mayor Nutter, said that at the Gallery site, Foxwoods and the city are at “the very beginning” of the process, so there will be many discussions before any decisions are made and any permits given.

At the Columbus Boulevard site, Foxwoods would need only one additional permit, highway occupancy, before it received a building permit – the last permit needed prior to the start of construction.

The city’s other proposed waterfront casino, SugarHouse, also needs a highway occupancy permit – plus a federal permit from the Army Corps of Engineers – to get a building permit, she said.

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