Neighbors preview highlights of Lower Northeast plan

Residents of Lower Northeast Philadelphia got a preview of the district plan they helped city planners create for their district Tuesday evening during an open-house presentation at Globe Dye Works in Frankford. It was the third time area residents were given the chance to personally offer input on planning priorities for their neighborhoods; a formal draft of the plan will be presented to the City Planning Commission at its meeting on August 21.

“This isn’t the full draft, but it’s kind of all the highlights,” said Ian Litwin, a community planner and project manager for the Lower Northeast District Plan.

The Commission’s recommendations for the area, formulated partially in response to hopes and concerns raised by residents, were displayed on posters set up throughout the foyer of the old dye works, which now houses artists’ studios. No formal presentation was given, but residents browsed the recommendations and offered further suggestions to around a dozen Planning Commission staffers on hand.

Part of the Philadelphia2035 comprehensive plan, the Lower Northeast District Plan includes short-term, mid-term, and long-term recommendations for land use and development in the area. It will be the third of 18 district plans being completed over a five-year timeline; the first two district plans, Lower South and West Park, were adopted in March.  

Short-term recommendations for the Lower Northeast include “corrective rezoning” to bring official land-use designations into harmony with actual land uses in the district. The Commission staff also recommends a number of forward-looking zoning changes aimed at bringing a mix of uses into areas that have traditionally been purely industrial, and promoting greater density in certain commercial areas.

Long-term, the plan suggests a move toward greater transit-oriented development. The Planning Commission recently deployed a text-message-based survey, in cooperation with Code for America, to gauge Lower Northeast residents’ attitudes toward public transportation ideas for the area.

Advertisements posted on buses and bus shelters asked commuters whether they would use rapid transit along Roosevelt Boulevard to reach Center City, and whether they’d be willing to transfer to the Broad Street Line to complete the trip. Ian Litwin said the Commission received more than 500 responses to the survey, with nearly all responders saying they’d use rapid transit on the Boulevard, and a majority saying they’d transfer to the Orange Line.

Northeast resident Harold Byer, who identified himself as a civil engineer who is “very concerned with traffic flow,” said he thought the draft of the plan was an excellent representation of the community concerns raised during the first two meetings, both of which he attended.

“They hit everything that we talked about,” Byer said. “… Everything came together real nice.”

The district plan, which will be presented to the Planning Commission in two weeks, also recommends increased density around Frankford Transportation Center. A poster at Tuesday’s meeting asked residents what could be done to make the hub “a destination and not just a transfer point.” The Commission pointed to the The Porch at 30th Street Station as an innovative idea which might work well if translated to Frankford. The first recommendation from residents to increase the appeal of the transportation center as a destination recorded at the open house was to “make it safer.”

The open-house presentation also mentioned the creation of a health center near Frankford Transportation Center which would be created through a public/private partnership. Ian Litwin said that a population shift in the Northeast has increased the number of residents who are either on Medicare, Medicaid, or uninsured.

“The Health Department estimates that we need as many as four new health centers, but they don’t have any money to build them,” Litwin said. “So it’s going to need a mixture of private and public funding—nonprofit, for-profit, it’s going to have to be kind of an all-hands-on-deck thing.”

So far, Litwin said he didn’t know of any private entity which had expressed interest in working with the City on such a project.

The Lower Northeast district plan will contain 45 specific recommendations, scaled down from the number contained in the plans for Lower South and West Park. Litwin said the Commission had learned a lot from the first two plans, and thinks that the Lower Northeast plan is both forward-thinking and implementable.

“I think we struck a really good balance between being vigilant and being realistic,” Litwin said. “There’s a lot of funding constraints in government right now, and in the private sector as well, so I think we’ve laid out a really good path going forward.”

The draft will be presented to the Planning Commission August 21st, at 1 p.m., on the 18th floor of the City of Philadelphia building at 1515 Arch. The meeting will be followed by an official public comment period of about two months.

Contact the reporter at jaredbrey@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @jaredbrey

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