April 9, 2009
By Kellie Patrick Gates
The members of the Central Delaware Advocacy Council who recently met with riverfront property owners told the rest of CDAG that some of the two groups’ thoughts on the future of the waterfront aren’t all that different.
“I was surprised at the degree of support for a waterfront trail,” said CDAG Chairman and meeting attendee Steven Weixler at Thursday morning’s regular CDAG meeting. Besides Weixler, CDAG members Patrick Starr, Jeff Rush and Jim Moss also attended.
“Within the Civic Vision, we are pro-development,” said Rush. “But it’s the right kind of development, and what is in the best interest of the city and of future generations.”
Both CDAG and the landowners want to meet again.
But no common positions can negate one critical difference: On April 21, CDAG will lobby the Planning Commission to embrace the principles of the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware and related Action Plan, documents put together by PennPraxis after a year-long series of public input meetings. But property owners will ask that the Commission not take action on the plan before doing more research about what implications doing so would have for land owners, and what it might cost.
“Things need to be looked at in more detail before the Planning Commission blesses that plan,” said Craig Schelter, principal of Schelter & Associates in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “We pointed out (to the CDAG members) that this is a huge amount of land to put this overlay on – it’s almost the equivalent area of all of Center City or all of the Navy Base,” he said. Besides, with the economy as it is, there’s no development happening now, anyway, he said.
CDAG member Patrick Starr describes last week’s meeting with riverfront landowners and representatives.
Schelter was joined at last week’s meeting by Tom Chapman of Blank Rome, Rich Lombardo of Ballard Spahr and Doug Grayson, an executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust. All are owner representatives except Grayson, who is part owner of an irregularly shaped parcel behind the South Philadelphia Walmart.
Schelter is also executive director of Development Workshop Inc., a non-profit that aims to promote real estate development in the city. He and Lombardo are former directors of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission; Chapman served as the commission’s acting director.
City Councilman Frank DiCicco, who invited the landowner contingent, organized the meeting and was there along with his policy chief Brian Abernathy.
So were Deputy Mayor Andy Altman and Planning Commission Executive Director Alan Greenberger also attended.
What the Planning Commission decides has important implications. Philadelphia will soon begin working on a master plan for the Central Delaware, and that plan, expected to be finished in about 16 months, will lead to zoning for the seven-mile stretch between Oregon and Allegheny. In the meantime, DiCicco has proposed a zoning overlay he describes as a placeholder. The overlay legislation leaves a lot of discretion to the Planning Commission, but it also requires the Commission to draft a set of guiding rules it will use to apply the overlay. Greenberger has said he will recommend the Commission accept the principals of the Vision and Action Plan and use them while drawing up the overlay rules.
More from Starr, and discussion with other CDAG members.
While the landowners say acceptance of the Civic Vision and Action Plan now is senseless, CDAG members say it’s critically important, and will give them faith that future city zoning will support the Vision’s goals.
At Weixler’s direction, CDAG members have begun building a case to present to the Planning Board. Weixler will make the presentation on behalf of the group, but all CDAG members were asked to compile a list of what they see as important points – and counterpoints to the landowners – that Weixler should make.
What the Planning Commission decides has important implications. Philadelphia will soon begin working on a master plan for the Central Delaware, and that plan, expected to be finished in about 16 months, will lead to zoning for the seven-mile stretch between Oregon and Allegheny. In the meantime, City Councilman Frank DiCicco, who was also at the CDAG/property owner meeting, has proposed a zoning overlay he describes as a placeholder. The overlay legislation leaves a lot of discretion to the Planning Commission, but it also requires the Commission to draft a set of guiding rules it will use to apply the overlay. Planning Commission Executive Director Alan Greenberger – also at last week’s CDAG/Developer meeting – has said he will recommend the Commission accept the principals of the Vision and Action Plan and use them while drawing up the overlay rules.
Schelter said that with the economy what it is, and no rush to develop likely, “I don’t know why need to go right now. I just don’t.”
Thursday morning at CDAG, Moss noted that Greenberger said at the group meeting that the overlay should not wait. “He said that when you have the momentum, you should move forward,” Moss said, noting that he felt reassured by Greenberger’s words.
Schelter said the meeting with CDAG was a good first step, but with the number of complicated issues on the table, more meetings were needed. CDAG members said the same thing, and future meetings with all CDAG members are in the works.
Last week, some members were displeased about the way the landowner meeting was handled. Thursday, John Scorsone said that the property owners should have come to a regular CDAG meeting. Joe Schiavo was fine with sending a few representatives to the meeting, but he said the other members should have been told the meeting was going to take place, and should have been given a short report afterward. Weixler, who had to rush out of town on family business the day of the landowner meeting, said he would take their words to heart.
Scorsone is leading an effort to invite Delware property owners to become part of CDAG, and other members seemed supportive Thursday. Scorsone made it clear that he thought the invitations should go to landowners only, not people representing them.
Starr said reaching out to landowners is definitely wise. “All we need is one or two,” he said. “If we get one or two to come and be on our side, it cracks the whole facade of their unanimity.”
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