Will the the Planning Commission only adopt part of the Master Plan for the Central Delaware?

Something smells fishy around the Master Plan for the Central Delaware. Could it be that the Planning Commission is contemplating shrinking the plan’s scale? That’s the rumor.

On Friday PlanPhilly’s Kellie Patrick Gates reported that the Planning Commission is considering only adopting part of the Master Plan at its meeting on March 6.

Word is that PCPC staff may recommend that the Commission adopt only the plan for the waterfront between Mifflin Street and Montgomery Avenue. Instead, the port-dominated area to the south (between Mifflin Street and Oregon Avenue) and the huge privately-owned swaths of vacant ex-Conrail lands to the north (between Montgomery and Allegheny avenues) could be only “accepted.”

So what’s the difference between “accept” and “adopt,” anyhow?

Kellie writes that the difference could be marginal: PCPC Development Planning Division Director Bill Kramer said, “Adopting means the planning commission is going to be necessarily guided by all the provisions. If they accept it, it means we use it as a guide, and do what we want to do.”

But then again, Kramer added, “there are schools of thought that there is not a lot of difference.” [UPDATED: In a phone interview with Kellie on Saturday, Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger confirmed that adopted plans are stronger, but noted that accepted plans are also referenced by planners and policymakers. Greenberger added that planning staff may only recommend adopting and accepting, not advocate for partial solutions. Of course, the commissioners are not obligated to follow staff recommendations. For more, read Kellie Patrick Gates’ detailed piece from Saturday on adopting vs accepting.]

Even if this is a semantic difference, it matters.

While the city might be trying to focus the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s efforts to the center-most part of the Central Delaware Waterfront, that choice comes at the expense of some of the city’s less wealthy neighborhoods. I can understand holding off on the port-dominated landscape of South Philadelphia, especially as public officials dream of the Port’s future growth. But when it comes to the northern portion of the waterfront, this sounds like developer intervention.

Kellie explains: According to the possible boundaries PlanPhilly has heard of, the northern portion of the plan that could be accepted instead of adopted includes properties owned by Jim Anderson and several others. At the October Delaware River Waterfront Corporation meeting at which the master plan was adopted by the DRWC executive board, representatives of the landowners asked the DRWC to exempt their clients’ 57.25 acres from the Master Plan – an action the DRWC did not take.

Craig Schelter, executive director of the Development Workshop and a former executive director of the city planning commission, said at the October meeting that the land owners applaud the parts of the master plan that focus on public property improvements, but were concerned, among other things, that the call for a public trail, street extension and parkland throughout the entire waterfront amounts to a taking of their property without compensation.  DRWC officials and board members have said this is not the case.  See more of this discussion in previous coverage here.

Like those who support the entire master plan as it is, Schelter thinks that an accepted plan has fewer teeth than an adopted plan. PennPraxis’ Harris Steinberg, who was responsible for the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware that led to the Master Plan, said that if the northern and southern portions are only “accepted,” that could buy the DRWC and Planning Commission more time to work with the landowners. Plus, those portions will likely be developed over a longer time horizon.

Matt Ruben, the Central Delaware Advocacy Group chairman, doesn’t see it that way. Ruben told Kellie on Friday: “Anyone who says we shouldn’t embrace this plan in the far north and south because change won’t come there until later is misunderstanding the whole purpose and design of the plan.” To me this is about equity and honoring a long-term planning process that enjoyed huge public participation and support.

If you care about the fate of this plan, it’s time to speak up. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission will be considering the Master Plan for the Central Delaware at a special meeting on Tuesday, March 6 at 1pm, held in the Montgomery Auditorium at the Free Library of Philadelphia (Central Branch, 19th and Vine Streets). Be there.

When the American Architectural Foundation and the US Conference of Mayors present Mayor Nutter his award for Leadership in Urban Design on March 9th, do you think they’ll mention this chapter in Philadelphia’s waterfront planning story?


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