Eastwick residents meeting Saturday to discuss future of parcels slated for apartment, airport development

The Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition will Saturday host a community meeting to discuss community goals for 128 acres near the Philadelphia Airport and John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

Korman Residential already has plans to build 722 rental apartments on 34 acres of land owned by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, on which it holds development rights.

Coalition spokeswoman Debbie Beer said as many as 500 people are expected to attend Saturday’s community meeting, to be held Saturday, September 8, at Pepper Middle School, 2901 S 84th St., from 9 am to noon.

The residents’ group has been meeting all summer, she said. They will Saturday talk about concepts and get feedback for a plan they will present to the city, she said.

Concepts embraced during earlier sessions include preserving as much land as possible as open space and habitat, improving existing commercial spaces that are underutilized, and adding a mix of housing units as infill in areas that are already developed, Beer said.  Residents like mixed-use development, and want the housing to be of different varieties, rental and owner-occupied, she said.

Before City Council broke for summer recess, Korman had received Philadelphia City Planning Commission approval for the zoning and streets bills that would allow it to move forward with its plan, estimated to bring 1,000 people to the area near the airport and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.   A third bill would have allowed the PRA to transfer an additional 93 acres of land to the airport. Korman also holds development rights on this parcel, but would give them up as part of a settlement in a legal matter between Korman and the city – more on that in a minute.

Legislation proposed by District Two Councilman Kenyatta Johnson was held in rules committee. The Commerce Department testified the apartments were needed in the area. Residents and supports of Heinz refuge said it would harm wildlife and people by taking away habitat and exacerbating flooding.

Things got very heated (see previous coverage).  Councilman-At-Large James Kenney was furious when he discovered, late in the hearing, that the zoning bill was related to a settlement to a lawsuit filed by Korman over the amount of money the city paid to condemn another parcel of land for airport use as an employee parking lot and a transfer of 93 additional acres from the RDA to the airport.

The Heinz Refuge and neighborhood activists are also opposed to the land transfer for the same flooding and environmental reasons.

Johnson held the bill in committee, he said at the time, only because residents said they  had not been properly informed.

The land transfer bill was also held in another heated meeting.(see previous coverage).

Korman officials and representatives have maintained that residents were informed of what has been happening, and that no one should have been surprised by a residential proposal, as that is what the area has been slated for for many years. Korman has worked with John Heinz Wildlife Refuge to address concerns and has committed to using native plants for landscaping, allowing a trail through the property, and other things.

Coalition spokeswoman Beer said residents expect this issue will be before council early in the session, so they are preparing. She said the Philadelphia Water Department will also be holding a hearing on water management issues in Eastwick in October – something city council committee members suggested be done after residents said they had flooding problems with current development levels.

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