Triangle Park fenced, as negotiations over public purchase stall

The triangular wedge created by Passyunk Avenue, Sixth Street, and Christian Street has gone from a gas station to green in the matter of a decade. Neighbors have tended Triangle Park since the lot’s owner removed the chain link fence in 2006, cleaning and greening the once-overgrown vacant lot.

On April 14, Triangle Park neighbors and friends pitched in to tidy up the triangle as part of the Spring Cleanup event. But within days the triangle had cyclone fence around it again. Today the irises and roses are blooming behind chain link.

What happened?

Triangle Park is not and has never been a public park, but neighborhood residents were trying to change that. The property is owned by Stuart Schlaffman.

Schlaffman, who also owns Condom Kingdom and The Mood on South Street, took down the old Amoco station that once stood on the triangular lot and removed the underground fuel tanks more than five years ago, but the cleared lot became an overgrown mess.

In 2006 neighbors asked Schlaffman if they could clean it up. Sure. Then they asked to plant. Okay.

In a phone conversation last week, Schlaffman told me that he’s always intended to sell the property, but he has happily allowed neighbors to improve its appearance.

The effort to clean and green the lot was led by Bella Vista resident Joel Palmer, who sees the triangle as the “gateway between Queen Village and Bella Vista.” Palmer has worked to get near-neighbors interested in maintaining the lot and has dealt directly with Schlaffman. Gateway though it is, Palmer is also the first to acknowledge that official park status is a work-in-progress.

Palmer and the Friends of Triangle Park group worked with then-Councilman Frank DiCicco to see if the city would acquire the lot so that the Triangle Park could become a permanent fixture. DiCicco apparently secured Neighborhood Transformation Initiative funding for the Redevelopment Authority to acquire the lot. Once that happens, title could be transferred to Friends of Triangle Park (awaiting its official tax-exempt status from the IRS) to maintain and use the property in perpetuity as a park.

Even though negotiations had proceeded in good faith, the whole process stalled out a few months ago, leaving Schlaffman frustrated.

“I didn’t mind them using the property,” Schlaffman said. “I’m all for them purchasing this property and have them turn it into a park.”  Still, Schlaffman said he was motivated to put up the fence because he believes the entire lot will have to be excavated to remove contamination left by the gas station’s subterranean fuel tanks. He added that “prospective buyers” were reticent to move on the property because it looks like a community park. He said two interested parties considered the lot but were put off by its appearance.

Triangle Park is looking ever-more parklike, blooming behind a new cyclone fence.
(Triangle Park is looking ever-more parklike, blooming behind a new cyclone fence.)

Schlaffman acknowledged that he and the Redevelopment Authority had agreed on a fair price for the lot. Paul Chrystie, Communications Director for the Office of Housing and Community Development, confirmed that the Redevelopment Authority has made an offer on the property. Neither Schlaffman nor Chrystie would confirm the amount of the offer.

“Once we have a legitimate offer from the RDA we’ll be able to sit down and make a legitimate decision about who we’re going to sell this property to,” Schlaffman said. Absent a contract Schlaffman said the conversation is “a lot of hot air.” Still, he acknowledged that his sense of urgency about selling the property would be relieved should a contract materialize. “It’s a time issue that I don’t mind once a contract is signed,” Schlaffman said.

Any offer, however, will depend on the amount of environmental remediation required by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as it relates to the property’s future use.

“If the City is to acquire the property it will be remediated by the current property owner prior to acquisition, or by the city after acquisition with the final purchase price reflecting remediation costs,” Chrystie said over email. “As PRA does not own the property or have an agreement of sale, it has not yet been in contact with DEP.  Any remediation agreed to will be consistent with the intended use.”

A view down Sixth Street in 1954, with the corner of Hight's Amoco Station at left. | Department of Records Archives,
(A view down Sixth Street in 1954, with the corner of Hight's Amoco Station at left. | Department of Records Archives,

Hight’s Amoco Station used to stand on the lot, and there are concerns about a petroleum plume and contamination levels about 19 feet underground. The City of Philadelphia added 100 cubic yards of dirt on the triangle a few years ago in an effort to clean the topsoil. The hope then was for the parcel to remain a park in perpetuity.

The Redevelopment Authority and the DEP need to get on the same page if Triangle Park is ever to become a real park and agree on the level of remediation is acceptable. Staffs from the offices of Councilman Mark Squilla and Sen. Larry Farnese have been apprised of the situation and are trying to figure out what they can do at the city and state levels to move this process along.

Meanwhile, Palmer has started a petition to encourage the City to move forward with its acquisition of the parcel from Schlaffman.

For their part, Friends of Triangle Park volunteers and neighbors are expressing their disappointment on a Facebook, at seeing their hard work encircled by chain link.

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