East Falls Community Council votes against latest security designs for Queen Lane reservoir

Fallsers are saying “don’t fence me in.”

This week, members of the East Falls Community Council voted against proposed designs for enhanced security measures at the Philadelphia Water Department’s Queen Lane Reservoir in East Falls.

As presented, the design would include the installation of fencing 50 feet from existing fencing and LED lighting along the fence line. The proposed fence would be eight feet tall, spear-topped and have a one-foot outward curve along the Queen Lane perimeter, which the PWD suggested would be a deterrent to unauthorized entry at the facility.

Last week, a mock-up of the new fencing was unveiled in a public meeting at the reservoir. As reported by Newsworks, community response was mixed to the fencing plan, which would move the fence – described by some as “aggressive” – 50 feet forward, encroaching upon open space along Queen Lane.

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New security measures 

Presenting the security plan was Michael Lavery, design branch manager for the PWD.

Summarizing the proposal’s history, Lavery said that the new security measures were a result of the September 11 attacks, when enhanced scrutiny was given at various levels of government to reassess security at public facilities. Along with airports, water treatment facilities were closely analyzed for threats.

A “best practices” scenario was developed for the city’s three drinking water plants, which included an enlarged security perimeter and increased lighting.

“It’s a higher deterrent, higher visibility,” he said.

Beginning in 2009, the PWD has been in conversation with the community, seeking a solution that would meet with community approval and ensure security for the Queen Lane Reservoir – which, he noted, contains 100 million gallons of drinking water.

Referencing last week’s unveiling, Lavery noted that residents were upset.

“There is change, and change can be difficult,” he said. “We hope that people are upset with the changes and not with the PWD’s participation with the community.”

Given this response, Lavery said that the final result would most likely be modified from the current incarnation.

Design concerns 

Presenting the neighbors’ point-of-view was Paul Elia, an East Falls-based architect who led the discussion with the PWD.

Elia began by complementing the PWD for their willingness to participate in an extended conversation with residents, which resulted in improvements to lighting and landscape regrading, making the site more useable by residents.

However, Elia countered, there remained several concerns over design proposals.

Unlike other PWD reservoirs, Elia noted that the Queen Lane facility stands amidst a largely residential neighborhood.

“You can’t use the same cookie-cutter elements from the other reservoirs on this site,” he said.

Elia also referenced the distance of the fence from the tree line. At present, the fence is twelve feet out. As originally proposed, the fence would move out 100 feet. A compromise was reached, wherein the fencing would be installed 50 feet from the existing fence.

For him, the ideal solution would incorporate the original perimeter, resulting a boundary that is “50 feet minus 12.”

Lastly, the eight-foot tall, outward-reaching fence drew his ire, causing him to remark, “It’s an aggressive, detention-center-like fence.”

“I appreciate the negotiations that PWD has agreed to,” Elia said in closing. “I just don’t think that they’ve gone far enough.”

Talks continue 

Asked about the amount of threat deterrence provided by the fencing and lighting, Debra McCarty, deputy commissioner for the PWD, said that they were part of a “multi-pronged approach” to mitigate threats, but was unable to elaborate, citing the approach’s secret nature.

Asked for his response to the opposing vote, Lavery indicated that the PWD will continue to seek input from East Falls residents, citing the role of community input in the zoning process. A zoning variance is needed for any fencing above five feet, he observed.

No zoning hearing is scheduled at present, but Lavery remained committed to cooperation with neighbors.

“We hope to work for the good of the community,” he said. “Sometimes you have to agree to disagree.”

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