East Falls residents express concerns with Queen Lane reservoir fencing plan

Over two dozen neighbors, many with their canine companions, gathered on a grassy knoll at the corner of Queen Lane and McMichael Street in East Falls on Monday night. The crowd came out to get a glimpse of the latest designs for a security fence which will enclose the Queen Lane Reservoir. The on-site meeting marked three years of negotiations between the East Falls Community Council and the Philadelphia Water Department— seemingly all about a fence and lights. 

The current fence, a modest barbed wire, chain-link structure, just doesn’t cut it, says PWD.

“That 12-feet is not much of a security perimeter,” said Michael Lavery, manager of the design branch at the PWD, about the current barbed wire fence just a few feet from the reservoir. 

The new fencing will create a 50-foot buffer between the public and the reservoir, a measure that the water department says was recommended after a study was conducted in regard to terrorist bomb attack potential. Initially officials say the report indicated a 100-foot wide barrier was appropriate to shut the public out from the entire field and that the 50-foot buffer is a compromise, but that’s the limit. Some neighbors wanted no fence at all, saying it would impose on the neighborhood space. 

“Basically we would be ignoring our best practices, so if something should happen, then what?” asked Lavery. “Then would there be any criticism because there was a report that said we should have done something?”

An LED light pole towered over the crowd and started to kick on as the sun began to set, one of the new design changes the PWD wants to bring to the property’s perimeter since previous lights were deemed too bright and would shine into nearby homes. But the big contention: An eight-foot fence, which residents say loomed over them like a “Queen Lane detention center” rather than a safety measure particularly with uppermost steel pickets curled toward the street. The plan included 3,000-feet of new fencing ranging from the curled picket along the hillside to shorter fencing which faces homes and the corner of Queen Lane and Fox Street. The water department also agreed to level a portion of the hill to continue the path next to the proposed fencing.

The reservoir, as one of three in the city that provides clean drinking water to Center City and the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods, needs to be secured.

Still neighbors say the mature trees that line their walking path will be trapped behind the new perimeter and shade will be hard to come by during hot summer months. Some called the project a “waste of money.” But Debra McCarty of the PWD says they are leaders in the country and that following these recommendations could lead to future grant money that would benefit Philadelphians.

“There is always money out there for utilities that take the next step,” she said, citing a $9 million grant given by the Environmental Protection Agency a few years ago.

Nina Coffin, a native of Mt. Airy but long time East Falls resident, says she spends a good amount of time at the existing park. 

“It’s sort of the center of my social environment, and a very sustaining place to come,” says Coffin, an avid dog lover. “Couples who I met initially with a puppy now have an adult dog and two small children,” she added.

Coffin, who says she’s been a part of the discussions since it began, says it’s been a difficult process with many miscommunications between the involved groups. Coffin called the fencing “aggressive” and says that with the new fence, neighbors will likely not spend time at the site. Some in the crowd said the new fence will make the property more at risk of crime with less foot traffic and fewer eyes on the street.

The new plans will be presented at this month’s East Falls Community Council meeting on May 14 at 7 p.m. at East Falls Presbyterian Church. 

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