Lower Schuylkill Master Plan adopted by Planning Commission

A plan for the future industrial and recreational development of the Lower Schuylkill was adopted on Tuesday by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. The goal of the Lower Schuylkill Master Plan is to create a new identity for the area as an industrial hub, attracting jobs and economic activity in an environmentally sustainable way, said Tom Dalfo, of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, who presented the plan to the Commission.

The Lower Schuylkill area covers 3,700 acres, bounded to the south by the Philadelphia International Airport, to the north by University City, to the east by South Philly and Center City and to the west by Eastwick and Southwest Philly.

Among the key features of the plan:

·         A “river road” providing access to potential new development sites. The road would begin at 47th street and run south along the west bank of the Schuylkill.

·         5 miles of new public river trails.

·         46 acres of “greened space.”

·         A total investment in public infrastructure of $411 million.

·         An estimated 5,500-6,500 new jobs.

Dalfo also said the plan predicts a total economic impact of $63 billion over twenty years, $860 million in private investment, and 80 new acres of stormwater management space.

The plan calls for three distinct “campuses.” A “logistics hub”—featuring manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, and airport-related uses—would occupy the southwest corner of the master plan area. The northwest portion would be a dedicated “innovation district,” relating to the educational institutions in the area, used for research and development and creative services. The eastern portion of the planning area, on the isolated east side of the Schuylkill between the river and center city, is planned as an “energy corridor” in keeping with its historic use for oil refinery.

“Unlike some places the comprehensive plan doesn’t have the force of law,” said Gary Jastrzab, executive director of the Planning Commission, “but it is supposedly used to guide all activities of the city.”

Craig Schelter of Development Workshop commended the Commission, PIDC, and the Dept. of Commerce—the three city-related agencies that developed the plan—for “putting a price tag” on the investment. He said it would be helpful for owners of properties within the path of the proposed river road to know what the city’s acquisition plans were. Alan Greenberger said the groups are still working on a specific plan for how to get the road through a few difficult “choke points” and looks forward to speaking with property owners about it.

Also on Tuesday, the Planning Commission recommended approval of a bill authorizing the city to acquire land along the Schuylkill River between 56th and 58th streets for the construction of the Bartram’s Mile park. The price to acquire the two parcels necessary for the park would be $359,000. The Department of Conversation and Natural Resources is providing $200,000 and the William Penn Foundation is providing the remaining $359,000. The land, currently owned by PIDC, will be transferred to the Parks and Recreation department. 

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