Neighborhood groups want more input in 2035 comprehensive plan

As Planning Commission staffers get ready to present a 25-year vision of the city’s future to the Planning Commissioners for a vote next month, they’re sitting down with neighborhood groups to try to address philosophical concerns they have about the planning process.

Alan Urek, the commission’s director of strategic planning and policy, chaired the first of four public meetings Tuesday to give the Crosstown Coalition, a collection of neighborhood organizations, and other groups a chance to weigh in.

Though ostensibly about the “Thrive” section of the plan, which deals with issues concerning development and land management, the meeting focused on the appropriate role of community input in the planning process and ways to turn the plan into a document that better addresses implementation.

Sam Little, of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, said that he wanted the plan, dubbed Philadelphia2035, to focus more on the role of successful neighborhoods as economic drivers for the region.

He said the plan instead viewed neighborhoods as wards, to which the city needed to provide services, rather than partners with their own set of priorities and resources to bring to the table.

To that end, Little said the plan should focus on the importance of developing public-private partnerships and relationships to neighborhood groups in areas like the disposition of city-owned property where “the community owns part of it.”

Lorna Katz, of the Society Hill Civic Association, traced the groups’ concern to a question of tone — the comprehensive plan, she said, should invite neighborhood groups and other partners to be active participants.

Laura Spina, the Planning Commission’s Center City planner, pointed out, however, that not all neighborhoods have organizations with the capacity to get heavily involved in the planning process and pointed to a need for further study of such neighborhoods, where economic conditions have been bad for an extended period of time.

Little and Steve Huntington, of the Center City Residents Association, also said the plan should focus on the implementation and funding of “blue-sky projects” — like a subway under Roosevelt Boulevard.

Huntington said that constrained funding makes it especially important to have a “short ball” and a “long ball” game that could be understood by laymen. (Urek, for his part, said the plan does have such a focus but said those details were in the appendices.)

Huntington also had a specific criticism of the plan’s vision of turning the Navy Yard into a suburban-style office park, saying the Planning Commission should utilize “Jane Jacobs-type thinking” to increase density and build housing near the office space going up in the area. “Mixed use can’t be mixed use without residential,” he said.

On that point, Planning Commission staffers seemed more interested in attracting entertainment and other types of businesses to the Navy Yard. Complicated ownership structures — most land is leased by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. — and the proximity to the airport make it hard to construct housing.

Going forward, Katz asked the Planning Commission to establish “advisory groups” that would allow community groups to have greater input on the comprehensive plan and the 18 district plans that will provide more specific details for regions of the city. “It just begs for further discussion,” she said, pointing to the Zoning Code Commission’s outreach strategy as a successful model.

Urek seemed receptive to that suggestion and sketched out two parallel tracks the Planning Commission can take going forward.

As the district plans get written, he said, advisory groups of key stakeholders could engage in an ongoing effort to revise and look at the comprehensive plan — which is designed to be regularly updated.

The Planning Commission is having three more discussions of the plan before it is presented for a vote.

On April 14, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., staffers will take input on the “Connect” section of the plan, which deals with transportation.

On April 21, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., staffers will host a discussion on the “Renew” section of the draft, which covers open space, environmental issues and historic preservation.

Finally, on April 26, from 9 to 11 a.m., there will be a comprehensive discussion of the entire plan.

All meetings will be in the Planning Commission meeting room at 1515 Arch St., on the 18th floor.

You can get more information about the proposed plan, as well as download a complete copy, here.

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