Penn Treaty Park plan closer to reality

July 30

Previous coverage

Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

Penn Treaty Park would have a promenade ending in a pier cantilevered over the water, a canopy festooned with solar panels, wetlands, a pebble beach and a café if a draft plan landscape architect Bryan Hanes presented to the community Thursday night becomes reality.

Hanes created the plan by combining the most popular elements from three earlier possibilities presented at the last community meeting in May. Those were built on feedback from earlier community meetings and smaller sessions held with groups of students and other park users. Hanes and his team also have met with regulatory agencies to bounce some of the ideas the plan contains off of them. For example, PennDOT has agreed to close a portion of Beach Street, which would allow the park to expand.

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Most people in attendance Thursday seemed very pleased with most of the plan. But everyone got a chance to praise what they liked and criticize what they didn’t. That feedback will be used to fine tune the plan, Hanes said, but he expected no drastic changes at this point. The final version will be unveiled this fall.

“He came up with one integrated thing that incorporates most of people’s positives and avoids the negatives from the other plans,” said Master Plan Steering Committee Co-chair Win Akeley.

“I just love it!” said an enthusiastic Deborah McColloch, who happens to be director of the city’s office of housing and community development.

After a presentation of the plan and a question and comment session at which facilitators wrote down attendees’ pros and cons, everyone was asked to use sticker dots to vote for their three biggest “likes” and “dislikes.”

The most common dislikes: Some people did not like the cantilevered pier, but wanted a re-creation of a historic covered pier that was at the site years ago. “You have 1,000 signatures about the pier and I have more at home,” said Friends of Penn Treaty Park board member Barbara Moorehead. Others were concerned that the new amenities would take up too much park space, or that a café wasn’t the best use for a portion of the park, since a café could be built anywhere, while some uses are park-specific.

As it happened, the cantilevered pier also came in on the top of the list of  things attendees really liked. They were also happy about the closing of Beach Street and the promenade, which would be designed to look like the wampum belt the Lenape gave to William Penn.

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Hanes said that based on preliminary discussions with The Army Corps of Engineers, it would be almost impossible to get permits to reconstruct the historic pier. A permit for the cantilevered pier will be much easier to get, he said, because it needs no support in the bed of the river.

The parking question remains unresolved. The small, in-park lot will be eliminated. There were three scenarios to add back parking presented at the last community meeting, but they involved using Beech Street. Hanes said he is continuing discussions with PennDOT, and the hope is that additional street parking could be created on nearby streets.

Mark Focht, executive director of the Fairmount Park System, attended the meeting. He called the plan “spectacular” and said it was totally doable, provided funding could be found.  The idea is that the completed Master Plan will give the Friends of Penn Treaty Park and other advocates something to show would-be funders.

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Hanes will be developing a cost estimate along with the final version of the plan. He said he will also be creating an order in which the various elements should be completed, as it is likely that the money for the entire project won’t come in at once. The priority list will be based on logistics – it will make sense to do some parts prior to others – and community desires – the most-wanted items will take priority.

While the room had mixed reactions to the café, Focht said the two in-park cafés that have opened have been a big success. The money generated would go to maintain Penn Treaty Park, he said. And the vendor would be responsible for keeping the park clean. The cafés bring more people into the park, he said.

In coming weeks, the draft plan will be presented to the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which  is overseeing the creation of a master plan for the Central Delaware, which includes Penn Treaty Park.

The room applauded when local historian Kenneth Milano suggested that since a lot of dirt will be moved, anyway, when the park is re-done, archaeologists should be invited in to see what they can find out about the history of the place.

Other elements of the plan: The William Penn Statue will remain in its original position, but the obelisk that honors the ancient elm tree under which the Lenape and Penn are believed to have signed a friendship treaty will be moved.  One of the goals of the park re-do is to highlight this history. One proposal is a three-dimensional, iron sculpture that depicts the treaty signing as depicted in the painting by William Hicks.

There had been discussion about moving the William Penn Statue to a different, more prominent location. But the group that donated it wanted it where it is, and several long-time park advocates, including John Connors, founder of the on-line Penn Treaty Museum.

Connors said he was pleased that the statue was staying put.

The big boulders on the shoreline would be removed. They will be replaced with pebbles at one section, which would allow people to touch the water and small boats – such as kayaks – to launch. Other parts of the shoreline will be vegetative.

The large, grassy lawn would be raised to a higher grade so that there could be a long, built in bench near the water’s edge.

There would be a water feature – a fountain of sorts – for children to play in on the Delaware Avenue side of the park. The playground area would also remain, but Haynes suggested a more natural approach with rocks and logs for kids to climb on.

The edge of the park along the PECO property, where  the playground is, would retain its large number of trees. Picnic tables and possibly barbecue grills would be added.

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