Riverfront advocacy group discusses pros and cons of new casino expansion plan

Members of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group don’t particularly like SugarHouse Casino’s new expansion plan. But they didn’t like the old version, either.

So, after mulling things over at a Thursday night meeting, CDAG members decided to draft a letter to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission – whose approval SugarHouse needs in order to proceed – listing the ways in which the new plan hits and misses the marks established under the city’s vision for the Central Delaware’s future. The letter did not state a preference for one plan or the other.

Both the old and new plans leave the SugarHouse property as a very large “super block” rather than dividing it up into human-scale, neighborhood sized blocks, said board member Laura Lanza. “There is no street extension where one ought to be,” she said. “This development is antithetical to what we would like along the waterfront.”

A lot of the CDAG discussion centered around parking.

SugarHouse hopes to:

  • build a parking garage 40 feet shorter than what was originally approved for their next phase of development.
  • retain the option of building outward toward Delaware Avenue instead of upward if there is the need for more parking in the future.
  • keep plenty of surface parking right now.

This is one area where some Board Members believed the original expansion plan was better, as it required SugarHouse to eliminate all but 10 percent of the 100,000-square-foot parking lot when it built the garage.

Originally, that garage was to be 10 stories atop a deck of expanded casino space. Under the current proposal, it would be a ground floor plus six stories of auto storage. Back in September, when SugarHouse made an information-only presentation to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger told the PCPC, of which he is chair, that the administration thinks the longer retention of more surface lot space is a good trade for reducing the garage height.

The city had been meeting with SugarHouse to talk about the height of the garage and other issues.

Board member Dianne Mayer said CDAG should tell the PCPC that even if the plan with the shorter parking garage moves forward “the surface parking should still be removed as already planned.”  Board member Joe Schiavo agreed.

Lanza said that if parking was reduced too much, casino-goers might leave their cars in the adjacent neighborhood, creating a problem for residents.

Matt Karp, who is chair of Fishtown Neighbors Association’s zoning committee, said that from the neighborhood’s point of view, the original, taller parking garage was less desirable, because it creates a 95-foot-tall building close to the water’s edge. The surface lot is not that bad, he said, particularly since the new plan calls for more trees.

The garage – which would include additional slots and table games on the ground floor – would be built on 19 acres north of the current site at 1707-1719 N. Delaware Avenue. SugarHouse has recently acquired that property. But casinos can only operate in Philadelphia on property zoned Commercial Entertainment District, and so City Council would need to enlarge the SugarHouse CED to include this land.
In addition to the planning commission’s approval for this amended plan, SugarHouse would also need the support of City Council, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the Army Corps of Engineers.
One thing that CDAG members like about the plan: The existing waterfront promenade would be expanded through the parcel where the garage would sit, north of the current casino building. Coupled with city efforts to negotiate waterfront right-of-ways with adjacent property owners, this could expand the waterfront trail the whole way to Penn Treaty Park.

Karp is drafting the CDAG letter. Members will suggest edits, and it will be sent to the planning commission before Tuesday’s meeting, at which the proposed new expansion plan is expected to be discussed.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

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