Draft plan for the Lower Northeast aims to address medical, transit needs of growing population

The recently released Planning Commission draft of the district-level comprehensive plan for the Lower Northeast calls for new health and transit services to keep pace with a growing population and new zoning that would encourage mixed-use development – including live-work space for artists –  in former industrial areas.

The plan, one of 18 district-level plans that will tailor the concepts in the city-wide comprehensive plan to specific city neighborhoods,  can be seen at the Philadelphia2035 website, here. The public comment period is open through Oct. 1, and comments can be emailed directly to Ian Litwin, at Ian.Litwin@phila.gov.

The Lower Northeast District includes Frankford, Northwood, Summerdale, Lawncrest and Oxford Circle. The population grew by 11 percent between 1990 and 2010, making it one of the city’s fastest-growing areas, Litwin told the Philadelphia City Planning Commission last week. “We’re predicting 5 percent growth between now and 2035, bringing the population to 106,000,” he said.

Two of every five residents either lack health insurance or are enrolled in Medicaid, Litwin said, and the city Health Center on Cottman Avenue has a wait time of about three months.

“Equitable access to health care is an important issue,” here, he said, and so the plan is recommending several new city health centers be added, starting with one at the Frankford Transportation Center.

One reason for choosing this location is its accessibility, Litwin said. Frankford Transportation Center is not only the second-busiest El station, but it is also accessed by 16 bus routes and a trolley line. It can be accessed by more than 700,000 residents with a single-seat transit trip, Litwin said.

During the public comment session, Carol Rogers, Executive Director of Health Philadelphia, praised planners for looking at health care needs as part of the long-range planning for the city. She agreed there is a great need for more safety net health resources in the Northeast, but said a recent survey by her organization shows greater need in places other than the Transportation Center.  Her organization estimates there are 72,000 people in the Northeast who have chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart failure, and that they are concentrated in zip codes 19111, 19120 and 19124. Based on the survey, Healthy Philadelphia estimates that about 18,000 of these residence are at high risk of having an unmet health care need, for example, having gone without a medical visit in the past year.

The primary recommendation of the fall 2011 study was the construction of a “new, comprehensive primary health care center” that would “serve all without regard to insurance status or ability to pay” near the above intersections and 19149 as well, she said. The study can be read at Healthy Philadelphia’s website, here.  (It is posted in the red “stay informed” box.)

Litwin reminded everyone that the plan calls for three different locations, and said the reason Frankford  Transportation Center works so well is that there is a large piece of available quasi-public land, owned by SEPTA, and that because of SEPTA connections, the location is “accessible to almost anyone.”

PCPC Chairman Alan Greenberger, also the deputy mayor for economic development, said health care discussions between planners and Healthy Philadelphia and others should continue.

The accessibility of the Frankford Transportation Center also lead to a recommendation to more densely develop the nearby area with both residential and commercial construction.

The draft plan, which was developed after a series of meetings with key stakeholders and city residents, states a longer-range goal of turning the neighborhoods’ key artery – Roosevelt Boulevard –  into a multi-modal corridor, where people could get around by car, but also by walking, bike or transit. The transit would connect with both the Market-Frankford El and the Broad Street subway line, Litwin said. Shorter term, the plan recommends a transit analysis to determine how best to expand transit using existing infrastructure.

Other goals established in the Lower Northeast plan include:
-Rezoning of the Castor Avenue Commercial Corridor to allow for greater building heights with residential units atop commercial spaces on the ground floor.  Allowing for greater density along the corridor could help alleviate pressure to convert homes into apartments, brought on by a population increase of 13 percent over the past 10 years.
-Improving the Frankford Gateway, in part by building on existing resources in the area, including three historic properties: The Presbyterian Church of Frankford, the Frankford Friends Meeting House, and a house that was the first mortgaged house in the nation. The plan also encourages adaptive reuse of former industrial buildings, citing the Globe Dye Works, a former yarn-dying factory that is now artist live-work space, as a good example.
-The plan also calls for getting other historic structures around the district onto the local historic register. The document contains a complete list.
-Improvements to green spaces and other public spaces.
-Zoning changes. Some steer uses in a geographic area toward a change advised in the plan, such as those mentioned above within the Castor Avenue Commercial Corridor. Others align zoning classifications with current use. For example, there are many properties in the Frankford Avenue corridor that are zoned commercial but are actually residential, civic space or parking lots, Litwin said.
Long-time North East activist Lorraine Brille said during the public comment session that she had a few concerns about the draft proposal. Earlier transportation studies have recommended that we “keep the Boulevard the way that it looks,” she said. And “we don’t want rezoning, we can work within the existing zoning.”  Brille kept her comments short as she had to hurry to another meeting.

Greenberger said planners should think more about the types of housing in the Lower Northeast, and if they are meeting all the needs of the increasing population. Perhaps other zoning changes are needed to accommodate other zoning types, he said. He agreed that a public transportation analysis is needed, saying that the northern end of the Northeast has many jobs, but residents without a car cannot currently get to them very easily. Litwin said nearly 30 percent of residents in the Lower Northeast do not have cars.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

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