Border dispute – where do you draw the line?

A border dispute is developing in the Northwest over a small but significant part of what either is — or is not — East Falls.

At particular issue: a wedge of land between Route 1 and Scotts Lane, including the Dobson Mills development and the McDevitt Recreation Center, an area commonly thought of as being East Falls. The dispute, however, stretches all the way to Allegheny Avenue, which the East Falls Community Council says is its eastern border.

But to others, including members of the Ridge-Allegheny-Hunting Park civic group, it’s Paradise, a name they’re using based on what is said to be a historic moniker for that area. And on still other planning documents, the area up to Scotts Lane is under the Allegheny West Foundation’s purview.

“Its name defines its boundaries, and it is now changing its boundaries,” EFCC board member Meg Greefield said of the RAH.

In a city where bickering over neighborhood boundaries is a beloved pastime, the disputes take on more significance because development dollars and grant money are involved. And this territorial disagreement could have implications for future development: In a rare setup with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, two different civic groups will hold advisory roles on zoning applications for the area between Route 1 and Scotts Lane.

In a deal worked out after discussions among the civics, Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.’s office and Richard Redding, PCPC director of community planning, both the EFCC and the RAH will consider zoning applications in the area and offer opinions to the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Representatives of both groups said they would work together to consider zoning applications, but acknowledged there could be a bureaucratic price to pay.

As detailed in a recent Plan Philly story, under the city’s new zoning code, developers seeking special exceptions to zoning laws would be required to meet with registered civics before the ZBA issues decisions. In the case of this area, it’s unclear what would happen in the event the two groups can’t form a consensus. Redding could not be reached for comment.

RAH president Rosalie Cooper said her group’s bylaws, adopted in 1970, list its border as Scotts Lane. For its part, the EFCC says its boundaries extend all the way to Allegheny Avenue, and reference many historic and official city maps of the area, which all list the disputed area as part of “Falls of Schuylkill,” now East Falls.

A key point of contention is a $1 million tax-credit agreement between the Pep Boys – Manny, Moe and Jack and the East Falls Development Corp. through which the company has donated 100,000 per year, beginning in 2002, to the EFDC. The company’s headquarters has been located on Allegheny Avenue since 1945.

That deal will expire this year, and Cooper said she will lobby to block a renewal of the deal, or seek to make sure residents of her area see some benefit from the money. In recent years, she said, new development in the area along Ridge Avenue heading toward Allegheny Avenue has been pointedly, visibly pro-East Falls: The East Falls Pharmacy and East Falls Fitness have both located on that stretch of Ridge.

Cooper has been president of the RAH for three years and said the border has been an issue for her much of the time.

“I’m not trying to expand my boundaries, I’m just trying to stay where we are at,” Cooper said. “They do not go to Allegheny Avenue.” RAH does not have a community development corporation, or CDC, like the EFDC, to seek and coordinate its own grants and funding.

“I want to work with them, but it has to be done fairly,” Cooper said.

EFCC officials said it’s true that area has seen increased development in recent years but say it’s never been a question for them that it’s East Falls.

Ralph Wynder, a former 38th Ward Leader who is the city Deputy Register of Wills, has been part of the discussions between both groups and said he thinks the two will be able to work together going forward.

“People just have to understand that they have to represent themselves, or somebody will do it for them,” he said.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

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