Society Hill sidewalk dispute nearing a resolution

The Society Hill sidewalk project that stopped this spring when Society Hill Civic raised concerns the work was detracting from the historic fabric of their neighborhood may soon gear up again.

The civic association and the city transportation department “are nearing resolution on a compromise,” SCA Continuing Director (aka past president) Rosanne Loesch said in a Thursday phone interview. “We’re very close.”

The sidewalk project is part of a larger street improvement project. Federal money is being used to pay for it, and the rules say that when a street is repaved, its sidewalks must be updated to comply with ADA standards. In many cases, this means new ramps are needed at intersections.

To boil down a very complicated issue: Society Hill residents and preservationists were displeased with the colors and materials of the various portions of the ramps and also the color and material of concrete, curb-like structures called cheek walls that are used to protect building foundations when they are exposed by the change in the sidewalk grade.

Representatives from the Civic Association, city departments, the Philadelphia Historical Commission, The Preservation Alliance, PennDOT,  and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission have been meeting to try to find a way to make the sidewalks accessible in a way that residents and others believe is respectful to the historic nature of the community. Loesch said she could not provide any details on the compromise until it is finalized.

As a result of the negotiations, related site work stopped in early April. Since then, some corners have been left with their brick sidewalk removed, and dirt exposed.

“Of course, it was disruptive to the project,” Loesch said. “But we are grateful that the review took place, and of course it was worth it,” she said.

Once the agreement is finalized, work will begin on those corners, Loesch said, and the entire project will be done “by the end of this paving season,” she said.

Stephen Buckley, assistant managing director for the city’s office of transportation, could not be reached for comment.


Contact the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

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