Looking back at planning, waterfronts, and casino news

In 2013, Philadelphia developed and adopted plans outlining future goals for swaths of city neighborhoods.

Public waterfront development of trails and parks ramped up on both rivers, plans were refined for more such projects, and advocates pointed to evidence that these efforts were paying off in private investment.

The housing slow-down of previous years thawed, and developers proposed and started building more projects – including many multi-family rental units.

As city government tweaked the rules on Registered Community Organizations, one of the more active community organizations, Old City Civic Association, folded when it could no longer get officer’s and director’s insurance. The problem arose from lawsuits filed by developers against OCCA, even though the civic lost none of them. In response, State Sen. Larry Farnese introduced legislation against  Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

The state still hasn’t determined who will get the remaining casino license, but we know who it won’t be. For the second time, Steve Wynn changed his mind on Philadelphia, withdrawing from consideration. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is expected to chose from among the remaining candidates in the first part of 2014. They are: The Provence, Tower Entertainment, LLC, 400 North Broad Street; Market8, Market East Associates, 8th and Market streets; Casino Revolution, PHL Local Gaming, LLC, 3333 South Front Street; Hollywood Casino Philadelphia, PA Gaming Ventures, 700 Packer Avenue; and Live! Hotel and Casino, Stadium Casino LLC, 900 Packer Avenue.

Here are some more 2013 highlights:

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission adopted two district-level comprehensive plans in 2013.

The Central District plan stretches river to river in the area roughly bounded by Girard Avenue in the north, Washington Avenue in the south. It calls for revitalizing civic spaces in Center City, encouraging more development along Ridge Avenue and North Broad Street in West Callowhill, and drawing the surrounding Chinatown neighborhood in closer around Franklin Square, and making pedestrian improvements there. Other goals include the creation of a new neighborhood park in the currently undeserved Chinatown/Callowhill area and turning the elevated portion of the Reading Viaduct into another park, and improving pedestrian and transit connections around the district. The commission also adopted a detailed plan honing in on one part of the Central District: Chinatown/Callowhill.

The University/Southwest Plan includes the neighborhoods of Powelton Village, University City, Saunders Park, West Powelton, Spruce Hill, Walnut Hill, Garden Court, Cedar Park, West Shore and Kingsessing. Among its major themes: Zoning changes allowing higher, denser mixed-use buildings along the eastern edge of the district and commercial corridors and in hubs around the district’s many transit stops. Restricting properties to single-family use only in neighborhoods where there is current or projected pressure to divide houses into student apartments.

City planners have also talked to neighborhood residents and leaders and have done much of the work for two additional district-level comprehensive plans expected to be adopted by the PCPC early next year, Lower North and Central Northeast.

Planning and development efforts continued on both the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.

After much wrangling, City Council passed the Central Delaware Overlay, giving zoning teeth to the master plan that guides development along the riverfront, between Oregon and Allegheny avenues.

The Master Plan is shepherded by the quasi-city Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which also manages the city-owned waterfront land.

DRWC opened the Penn Street segment of the waterfront trail in June. In December, it hired the company that designed it to design more trail segments, and hired a team to determine how to transform Pier 68 into a fishing pier park.

Work to create a park from Pier 53 – the Philly version of Ellis Island – started in October.

DRWC chose Hargreaves to re-do Penn’s Landing, a project that includes capping part of I-95. A mid-way report was made to the public this fall.

Plans are also underway to create better linkages between neighborhoods and the waterfront at Columbia Avenue and Spring Garden Street.

And the William Penn Foundation gave DRWC another $5 million to do this type of work. (There were a few tense moments in 2013 where city-related agencies and groups around the city feared the William Penn money could dry up. But then the ethics board ruled that grants given at the city’s request are not lobbying. In December 2013, about a year after the related complaint against William Penn was filed, the ethics board ruled that no lobbying laws were violated in the relationship between the foundation, the Boston Consulting Group which was reviewing city schools for closure, and the city school district.)

Central Delaware advocates believe 2013 brought proof of the Central Delaware Master Plan’s central premise, that public investment will lead to private investment, works, with the opening of Fringe Arts at Race and Columbus, across from Race Street Pier, and proposals for mixed-use residential development, including Renaissance Plaza on the former World Trade Center site and BridgeView in Queen Village.

Waterfront Developer Michael Samschick is developing several blocks in Fishtown and Northern Liberties, with some apartments occupied, a second building conversion underway, and plans for a multi-venue entertainment complex. Samschick got the zoning relief he needed for the entertainment complex, but then a local resident appealed. Saying he didn’t want the project to be held up, First District Councilman Mark Squilla introduced legislation that would remove the project area from an overlay preventing such uses and also grant parking relief. It has passed committee.

Over on the Schuylkill, work continues on the Schuylkill Banks trail and related projects, and an economic study said it does the city good.

One Schuylkill River development, One Riverside, got city planning, zoning and legal staff talking about just what makes a parking garage an underground garage.

City and University of Pennsylvania planners have teamed up with Parks and Rec to plan the future of the city treasure the Schuylkill passes through, Fairmount Park.

Other big development projects of 2013 include the 191-unit Soko Lofts on American Street in South Kennsington; 146-unit Ridge Flats in East Falls; and, as PlanPhilly’s JoAnn Greco reported, conversions of several buildings in Center City.

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