A plan to guide development along Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront was approved Tuesday by the City Planning Commission. The Delaware River has seen plans come and go. So many who live on the water between South Philly and Port Richmond have been waiting a long time for the unanimous approval by Philadelphia’s planning commission.
At a hearing moved to the Free Library’s Central branch to accommodate a large audience, the commission listened to sometimes heated testimony from planners, property owners and river-ward civic associations. “I’m here today in an enviable position because communities in Philadelphia are often said to be afraid of change,” said Matt Ruben of the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, who chairs the Central Delaware Advocacy Group. “And we’re thrilled to be here today because all of the 21 organizations in the Central Delaware Advocacy Group are unanimous in support of this plan and we’re proud to be here in support of positive change on the waterfront.”
it wasn’t quite as unanimous as Ruben said. The head of the Pennsport Civic Association submitted a letter asking the Planning Commission to reject the plan.
And some riverfront property owners threatened to sue, warning the commission not to approve the plan, which calls for a ribbon of waterfront parks, a multipurpose trail and enough new housing between Interstate 95 and the river to qualify as new neighborhoods. Old City homebuilder Gianni Piagnetti said he was surprised to learn recently that the plan has designs on property he owns in Northern Liberties. “I got four parcels, and you want to make all my parcels parks,” Piagnetti said. “That’s unfair and unjust.” But the plan, in the works since 2006 and with an unprecedented amount of public input, won support from all eight Planning Commission directors. The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation tailored the plan for financially lean times. First it called for adding small parks at the feet of Race Street and Washington Avenue, which have been built. New zoning and design guidelines now set the table for grander visions elsewhere along the waterfront.
For instance, the plan calls for covering I-95 in Old City to create a large park, but it does not identify how to pay for such an ambitious project.
With the Commission’s approval, the plan will now be consulted as a guide for future waterfront development decisions in Philadelphia.