Rezoning for large apartment complex near Philly airport tabled for further talks

    A zoning change that would allow 35 acres in Philadelphia’s Eastwick neighborhood, near the airport, to be developed into a 722-unit apartment complex has been tabled. 

    The move follows heated testimony from neighbors and envirionmental advocates at a Philadelphia City Council committee meeting Tuesday.

    After hours of public comment, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson asked for the bill to be held until issues, including possible increased flooding, could be worked out with the community.

    Residents outlined worries about congestion, lack of open spaces and increased flooding that could occur if the complex, proposed by the development group Korman, went through.

    Resident Pamela Williams called for the bill to be tabled until residents and Korman came to a mutually beneficial agreement.

    “We know they have a right to develop,” Williams said before the committee, “but we want to come to the table and tell them what’s good for us, not just what’s good for their pockets, what’s good for the community.”

    Environmental advocates joined in a coalition against the development, saying it could hurt wildlife at the nearby John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum.

    Robin Mann, a volunteer with the Sierra Club of Southeastern Pennsylvania, said the area has long served as a buffer zone between urban development and the tidal marshland.

    “They’re already dealing with intense pressures from the airport, the highways, the existing flooding and storm water problems,” Mann said. “This would really rob the refuge of a buffer area. It’s reverted to very substantial habitat for wildlife and birds.”

    The area is currently zoned for single family homes. The rezoning debated before council Tuesday would change that to allow for the large apartment complex to be built.

    Stormwater runoff a major concern

    Refuge manager Gary Stolz said he is worried about increased stormwater runoff from development sending increased pollution in the protected area.

    “Any hard surface creates runoff directly into the refuge, from dripping oil pans, to anything dumped on lawns,” Stolz said. “Anything coming from outside could potentially have an adverse effect on the native wildlife habitat.”

    Stolz is also worried about reducing habitat for wildlife that now passes freely across reserve boundaries into the nearby land.

    Peter Kelsen, a lawyer for Korman, the project’s developer, said because the complex will have to meet strict water department standards, flooding in the area will decrease once it is built.

    “We actually think that when the site is developed with all of the open space and in fact those storm water management controls that are required by laws, it will be a much better situation than currently exists,” Kelsen said.

    He touted the nearly 600 jobs that would be created during construction, and the housing for about 1,000 Philadelphia residents.

    They had hoped to bring the zoning change to a vote before the end of council’s current session.

    A spokesman for Johnson said he is still dedicated to establishing a development plan that is a “win-win” for Eastwick area residents and Korman.

    City Council also will hear comments on a related transfer of 93 nearby acres from the Redevelopment Authority to the airport, which advocates for the refuge also oppose.

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