PCPC: blight; institutional expansion, “wow” development

Nov. 17

By Matt Golas
For PlanPhilly

The monthly meeting of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s agenda covered significant portions of the city geography and the agenda was interesting enough to fill room 18029 at One Parkway, 1515 Arch Street.

First up were two information only sessions: one on really big expansion plans by Chestnut Hill College followed by a primer on how the Hankin Group wants to transform a vacant triangle of land in Francisville into a residential/restaurant development that makes a really big statement.

The biggest news out of the session? The Nicetown Neighborhood in North Philadelphia, impacted by unsafe, unsanitary, inadequate and overcrowded conditions and faulty street or lot layout, was re-certified as officially blighted.

Community planner Jennifer Barr presented the details on the blight recertification plan for the roughly 70-block area from Broad Street to Windrim and Germantown Avenues, impressively intersected by the Roosevelt Boulevard.

The new blight certification was requested by the Redevelopment Authority to keep ongoing plans in place and to remain eligible for certain state and federal funding.

Barr explained that under “Pennsylvania Urban Redevelopment Law”, at least one of seven criteria must be met for an area to be certified as blighted. Nicetown met three of the seven by having “unsafe, unsanitary, inadequate or overcrowded conditions” and “economically or socially undesirable land use.”

The neighborhood has 492 vacant lots, 609 Licenses & Inspection building code violations (most by neglect and deferred maintenance). Property values in the neighborhood are one third of the city median home value.

Barr noted that the same blight recertification process was vetted by the planning commission earlier this year for the Grays Ferry/Point Breeze neighborhoods.

Some commissioners, notably Natalia Olson Urtecho, made a point of wondering how effective the blight program really is given the fact that these neighborhoods were originally certified in 1958.

Barr and Deputy Mayor for Planning Alan Greenberger explained the recertification process is more about creating a real time accounting of conditions than an evaluation of whether the federal program has worked.

The data for the PCPC analysis was supplied by the Board of Revision of Taxes and the Water Department. The stats were fairly grim: 28 percent of all parcels in the Nicetown study area are vacant. Property values are equal to a third of the city median. Two street grids collide in Nicetown, so naturally it is difficult to get around thanks to non-through streets and one-way streets. There is also a lot of illegal dumping of trash.

Nonetheless, the city hopes the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program will make a difference in places such as Grays Ferry, Point Breeze and Nicetown by mitigating the most aggressive blight issues through the purchase and rehab of houses in foreclosure and extreme neglect.


The Francisville triangle

The Cameron Square residential development at 19th and Wylie Streets in the Francisville Neighborhood of North Philadelphia would convert land where a shoe company was positioned three decades ago into a townhouse and condo complex that would be comprised of 26 3-story townhomes and 55-66 condos in a single building featuring a street level restaurant.

Fox Chase expansion

The new addition would have a building footprint of approximately 6,000 square feet and will add approximately 25,000 square feet to the Gross Floor Area of the existing facility. This new building will be used as a Comparative Research Facility. It is not affected by the Burholme Park lawsuit.


Chestnut Hill College growth plan

Real Estate attorney Peter Kelsen and architect Peter Saylor laid out plans for the college to expand onto the recently purchased Sugarloaf Hill property adjacent to the main campus. Main issues are increased parking and vehicular traffic, noise and environmental impact.

Contact the reporter at mgolas@design.upenn.edu

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