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Planning Commission rejects Jones’ Germany Hill bill

The city Planning Commission this week voted against a bill introduced by Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. that could potentially keep Germany Hill out of the hands of developers.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, commission members voted unanimously against recommending Jones’ measure, which would eliminate a “paper street” — one which appears on official city plans but is unimproved. Jones’ bill, introduced Feb. 9, would delete a portion of Cinnaminson Street, between Smick and Mansion streets, now part of the city-owned portion of the 20-acre Germany Hill area in Manayunk and Roxborough.

[WATCH: Planning Commission hearing and vote on Bill No. 120085 http://www.viddler.com/v/57edfd99]

Residents and local civic groups have long fought to keep Germany Hill undeveloped, though the city in 2005 gave preliminary approval to a 48-home townhouse neighborhood that would include a new and adjacent portion of Cinnaminson Street. The owners of that eight-acre parcel, Greg Ventresca and Walt Lewis, told planning commission members the move would remove their opportunity to use the land, which is zoned for residential use.

“It severely, if not totally, cuts off any type of development options for our site,” Ventresca told the commissioners, saying he believed the bill was aimed at trying to stop the development of their project. Ventresca said there had been discussion of changing the project design to bring access to the development in from Parker Avenue, but it proved unworkable.

“I think a few disgruntled neighbors decided to tell a different story, that the Councilperson decided to act upon,” he said. He described the project as “very viable,” and said even with the tight economy, the primary thing standing in the way of the project is neighborhood discontent.

Despite Ventresca’s project languishing for several years, Germany Hill came back into play last fall after the Green Woods Charter School’s search for a new home led them to talks with the site’s owners about moving there.

The Ridge Park Civic Association mobilized, leading Jones in December on a tour of Germany Hill to demonstrate what they have said is a largely inaccessible site. Concerns have also persisted about storm runoff — the end of Smick Street near the Fountain Street side of Germany Hill becomes a mud pile after heavy rain — and additional traffic onto the narrow streets that empty onto Umbria Street.

The city owns about 12 of the 20 acres, and Jones has expressed interest in pursuing a property swap with the owners to give them another parcel in exchange for the Germany Hill site.

Jones’ spokeswoman, Michelle Wilson, said yesterday the Councilman “continues to be committed to the conservation of open space on Germany Hill.”

“We would like to have a conversation with the developer about the idea of a land swap,” she said.

The bill has one major condition, which wasn’t part of the planning commission’s discussion: An expiration date. The city and the developer have two years in which to strike a deal, or the paper street would come back to life — at least on paper.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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