Bill creating zoning regs for Central Delaware Waterfront not likely to be introduced until 2013

It looks like legislation aimed at translating the principles of the Central Delaware Master Plan into zoning code won’t be introduced until the new year, First District Councilman Mark Squilla said in a phone interview Wednesday.

But Squilla said he’ll introduce a bill creating the Central Delaware Overlay early in January, even if the stakeholders he’s been discussing potential language with aren’t completely satisfied. “You can’t just have meetings forever,” he said.

Squilla said he’s willing to have just one more, if it’s needed, before introducing the overlay.

Representatives of the city planning commission, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, the Central Delaware Advocacy Group and the Development Workshop have been discussing the overlay with Squilla – most recently, Tuesday morning.

DRWC is the quasi-city agency that oversaw the creation of the Central Delaware Master Plan – a guide for redeveloping the waterfront from Oregon to Allegheny avenues. CDAG is the group of representatives from waterfront civic, environmental and other organizations that advocates for the plan. The Development Workshop is a non-profit that works to promote development in Philadelphia. It’s members are unknown, but include some with waterfront interests.

Big issues have included: How much access he public would have to the waterfront through private property, what mechanism would ensure access, and would that mechanism include a payment or other compensation for landowners.

Liability issues have also been part of the discussion – who would be responsible if someone was hurt? This was resolved recently when the DRWC said it would include any future areas accessible to the public in its insurance policies.

The parties “have really come a long way to work together with this,” Squilla said. “I don’t see nothing like a drastic change. We’re close to the end.”

“There are still issues out there, but we are plugging away,” said the Development Workshop’s Craig Schelter. “We’re literally going through (the draft document) page by page and raising the issues that need to be refined,” he said.

Schelter said he wasn’t comfortable going into detail about the remaining issues from the Workshop’s point of view, because a request was made at an earlier meeting not to detail the discussions with the press.

Squilla confirmed his desire to keep most details between the parties for now. He wouldn’t provide PlanPhilly with a copy of the draft language, but said he might make the document public before he introduces it to council.

Squilla did say that Tuesday’s session was largely about the height bonus structure. The Central Delaware Master Plan calls for limiting building height to 100 feet in most cases. All parties wanted find a way to make exceptions predictable, and so it was decided to come up with a bonus structure, whereby a builder could build higher by providing something to the public in return. Examples that have been previously discussed have included paying for or themselves building a portion of the waterfront multi-purpose trail or using green building practices.

A proposed bonus list was passed around for the first time, Squilla said. “It was new to everybody.” One of the questions the list generated: How much would certain items cost – such as building a portion of the trail – and would that cost be worth the extra height offered?

Another issue that is still open, Squilla said, is about river access streets. The Master Plan calls for a number of key streets up and down the waterfront to be extended across Delaware Avenue to the actual river. CDAG sees this as a key component of the plan, bringing not only people, but development, to the riverfront. But the Workshop has had concerns about it making some parcels harder to develop.

Earlier discussions involved striking Mifflin Street in Pennsport and Berks in Fishtown from the list of access streets. Mifflin is gone, since Pennsport Civic doesn’t want it on the list. But at the last CDAG discussion about the issue, CDAG President Matt Ruben, who couldn’t be reached for this article, said Berks was not a closed case.

If Berks were extended – either by an actual roadway or a swath of land the same width of the road – it would cut across the property owned by James Anderson. This is the location where Steve Wynn hopes to build Philadelphia’s second casino.

Schelter has represented Anderson with some issues related to the waterfront master plan, but said he could not comment on the casino proposal.

DRWC Planner/Project Manger Karen Thompson said the DRWC role in the discussion has been only to answer questions the other parties have about the master plan. She said not having a new overlay until next year is not overly concerning because there is an interim overlay in place that stays until it is replaced. But long term, a new overlay is needed, since the interim one was done before there was a master plan, and the new one will be closely tied to it.

When asked if the discussions led her to believe the overlay would uphold the master plan, Thompson said it was to early to say. “We need to see the final (version),” she said.

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