PCPC accepts Eastern North Philadelphia plan

May 18, 2010
By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

To Rev. Valeria Harvell, pastor of Temple Presbyterian Church, the Planning Commission’s acceptance of a community plan that includes the church’s South Kensington neighborhood offered hope that even as neighborhood property values increase, long-time residents can stay put, or even return.

“We need more affordable housing for our neighborhood,” she said Tuesday. “We appreciate the increase in property values, but we have to set up an equitable distribution so that everybody gets to enjoy it.”

Harvell told the commission that in the past five or six years, she has seen about half of her members who lived in the community “forced out” because they could no longer afford to live there.

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Harvell, in the middle, along with consultant Lamar Wilson and Women’s Community Revitalization Project Executive Director Nora Lichtash, testify in support of the plan.

Community planner Dave Fecteau, who presented the commissioners with a summary of the plan covering a portion of Lower North Philadelphia from Front to Sixth Streets and from Girard to Montgomery Avenues, said that from 2001 to 2007, property values in the area jumped from $40,000 to $120,000.

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The poverty rate in the area covered by the plan stands at 38 percent, he said, and in a survey of renters, 7 of 10 said they could not afford to buy a home in the neighborhood.

If all the parcels of vacant land in that part of town were combined, it would cover 35 football fields, Fecteau said.

The community wants to encourage development of many different kinds, he said. That includes a goal that 55 percent of all new housing built in the neighborhood be affordable housing.

Not everyone was happy that the plan was accepted. Annie Moss, a representative of the Old Kensington Neighborhood Association, said that while representatives from Old Kensington were invited to meetings about the plan and participated, none of them knew a final plan had been created and was going before the planning commission until they received it on May 14.

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Moss asked the commission to table the vote. She was concerned about the creation of “poverty clusters.”

She asked the Commission to table a vote until Old Kensington members could thoroughly review the plan. The affordable housing that supporters said was so desperately needed concerned Moss greatly.  She agrees that affordable housing is needed so that long-time residents can stay in the community, she said. But she wanted assurance that the affordable units would be spread out.

Moss said she feared the creation of another “poverty cluster,” many of which already occur in North Philadelphia.  Moss wondered what services would be provided for poor children who might move into affordable housing in the neighborhood.

Harvell said that the plan is not about creating clusters of poverty, but keeping socio-economic diversity in the neighborhood, even while encouraging new development.

The plan was developed by the Women’s Community Revitalization Project and the Eastern North Philadelphia Coalition with funding from the Wachovia Regional Foundation. In addition to the call for more affordable housing, the plan also calls for additional green space and commercial property, and for working with the Food Trust to encourage the existing small groceries to carry fresh and healthy foods. It also outlines goals for attracting more businesses to key business corridors in the community.

Watch more testimony and discussion here, here, here and here.

The commission approved the plan on staff’s recommendation. Executive Director Alan Greenberger said while he supported the plan in theory, it was not clear how it would be implemented. However, the wishes of this community – and others with plans – will be considered as the city’s comprehensive plan – otherwise known as Philadelphia2035 – progresses.

Speaking of Philadelphia2035, Danielle DiLeo Kim, the planning commission’s director of special projects, gave a status report on the city’s long-range plan.

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A series of four community meetings designed to give Philadelphians a chance to tell planners what they would like to see in what places around the city starts with a 6 p.m., May 27 session at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 118 N. Broad Street.

Kim said participants would hear a brief overview, then be divided into groups of 10. Each group will receive a map and 27 stickers representing features like parks, transit improvements and energy-related initiatives – such as putting solar panels on a building. Each group will fill in details around those concepts so that specific ideas are recorded, she said. 

Watch more of the Philadelphia2035 update here.

In other business:

The commission is recommending that city council approve zoning changes that would allow mixed-use development, including a supermarket at the former Tasty Baking Company site.  One of the changes proposed for the area bounded by Hunting Park, Henry and Roberts Avenues and Fox Street would allow for four take-out food establishments. Another would allow for a development where gas is sold and take-out food is permited. and drive-thrus.

An attorney for the prospective buyer who has the Tasty Baking site under contract said that the supermarket planned for the site needs relief from the city’s take-out rules because the supermarket will offer hot and cold prepared foods for take-out.

Greenberger said that the take-out code was created to prevent lots of take-out joints from creating a blight of sorts in city neighborhoods. “But now, fancy supermarkets offer fancy  take-out.”

The commission also gave its blessing to two zoning bills that would allow new houses of worship to be built in the city.

The True Light Church is a step closer to being able to build a new sanctuary, family life center, and 350 parking spaces at 5800 Lindbergh Boulevard – the site of a former lumber yard – as the commission is recommending city council approval of a zoning change from general industrial to C2 Commercial.

The project will also include a day care center and a facility for job training, church representatives said. The nearly 1,000 member congregation is currently smooshed into a  much smaller space at 52nd and Parish. They have to split into two services, and both are packed, said the church pastor, Dr. Maureen Davis. The current site is four miles away from the new one, Davis said, so the same community will be served. “This will help us to expand some of our outreach to the community,” Davis said.

The commission also recommended that council amend the zoning code so that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can build a temple with two spires of about 209 feet –  higher than the 125 feet that current zoning allows – on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Church spokesman Ahmad Corbitt told the commission that three meetings have already been held to inform the community of the plans.  He added that “our spires will not reach the top of  the cross of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul across the Parkway.”

Corbitt said the temple plans, still under development, will include much open, landscaped area and will be open to the public.

Attorney Peter Kelsen, who represents the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on this project, said that in addition to the “legislative issues” that the planning commission heard yesterday, they and city council would later be reviewing finalized designs.

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The view of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Temple from Logan Square might look like this.

The church showed some tentative site plans, and a drawing of a temple in Kansas City that this proposed temple might resemble.  Corbitt said the hope is to have the Philadelphia temple finished in 2013.

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The Kansas City Temple

 Contact the reporter at kelliespatrick@gmail.com.

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