Thursday, November 02, 2006

Are We Planning Yet?

There have been moments in the last few weeks - since Mayor Street named Janice Woodcock as the Planning Commission's executive director and assigned PennPraxis the task of crafting a master plan for the Delaware waterfront - when I've been tempted to think that - hallelujah! - the smart people are finally in charge of the city's physical future. And then there are days when it looks like the same old let's-make-a-deal culture still runs things.
Take yesterday. There's Councilman Frank DiCiccio sitting in front of the City Council rules committee, urging them to re-zone a site at Delaware Avenue and Poplar Street to make way for the tallest condo tower in town - the 900-foot-tall Bridgman's View, a skyscraper that would be less than 60 feet shy of One Liberty Place. The tower has been debated among residents since March (See my blog entry and March 31 column). The design, by Agoos/Lovera, has been extensively negotiated with the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association. There are lots of good things about the project, including an a sculptural tower and lots of ground-floor retail. But that's not the issue anymore.

Since PennPraxis was put in charge of the river, the ground rules have changed. With the non-profit taking a fresh, comprehensive look at the waterfront, what's the point of approving one more ad hoc, unplanned zoning change? Why not just wait a few months until the group finishes a draft of their master plan, before making a permanent change to the city code? Harris Steinberg, the head of PennPraxis, tried to explain to the committee that re-zoning site now, before his group's study is even started, would completely undermine the effort.

You would have thought that Philadelphia's elected officials could have grasped that basic policy idea. Instead, they spent a good deal of time fretting that the developer would think that Philadelphia is anti-business if they turned down the re-zoning request! Sure a delay is annoying for Bridgman's developer, but, hey, lots of things get complicated when you're building a major project. In the end, the committee tabled the request for a month - but for the wrong reason. They said they wanted to give the developer time to meet with PennPraxis and explain the project.

But the issue isn't whether this one particular tower is well designed or not, or whether it's good or bad for Philadelphia. The issue is whether Philadelphia should continue its self-destructive habit of looking at each development proposal in isolation - or whether it should start to see all of these development proposals in the context of a larger, neighborhood-creation exercise. It's not an either/or situation. Good planning will be beneficial for both business and city residents. Maybe a month's delay will give the rules committee time to figure that out.

Meanwhile, PennPraxis keeps plowing ahead. It will hold its first open meeting on Monday, Nov. 6 at 1515 Arch Street, 18th floor, at 8 a.m., and welcomes all comers. If that's too early for you, see their site Plan Philly for upcoming events.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The part about not wanting a developer to think Philadelphia is anti-business is hilarious. Are they really that dense?

Does anyone know Ver Anastasio's take on the issue?

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on Inga. Arn't you being a little cynical. It seems like a fair compermise for a project that seems to be at the right place, at the right time.

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sometimes think Inga goes a little far with her critisism. But she is a paid critic, after all.
Anyway in this case I don't agree that she is being cynical or overly critical. The recent events with Penn Praxis could represent a HUGE turning point for the city. For the first time someone competant and independant is looking at the waterfront. To allow a project of that magnitude to go ahead without making sure that it fits with the waterfront plan would be creating a huge obsticle for the planning process before it even begins.
Probably the answer will be a compromise of some sort. But the commision is right to wait.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous b love said...

With all due respect Inga, I totally disagree with regard to Bridgeman's View Tower. Yesterday's hearing was not in fact business as usual, and it was Councilman DiCicco himself who begrudgingly suggested to President Verna the continuation of the hearing.

We can all agree that Penn Praxis putting forth a study for the central riverfront, wherein a public discourse between developers, experts and the public will result in the best possible product, is a great great thing. In the case of Bridgeman's View Tower, a public discourse is exactly what Marc Stein's group has done within the means possible in the pre-Penn Praxis environment.

A request for postponement might be different if there were actually a plan and process already in place. But, considering Penn Praxis' riverfront responsibilities were less than three weeks old at the time of the hearing, I think it's a bit presumptuous to ask to temporarily shelf a project that's been nearly a year coming, more so when the developers have done exactly what Penn Praxis wants to do, just without Penn Praxis' involvement.

Policy aside, Bridgeman's View is not only organically Philadelphian (developer, architects, contractor and financier are all rooted locally), but its design is leaps and bounds better than Waterfront Square, Trump Tower, 700 Delaware, Marina View, World Trade Square and of course the casinos.

It's my thought that this single project, which appears to have stronger legs than any of the other projects, should get a pass, but on the onus that the developers work with Praxis between right now and construction. The developers want to be good neighbors; Penn Praxis should do the same.

7:26 PM  
Anonymous LordBaltimore said...

2945 LLC and Mark Stein should bring their proposal down here to the Inner Harbor. We'll take it.

It's ridiculous that Philadelphia has 4 different layers of hatchet organizations that developers have to get through to develop vagrant run down property. Lets be real most of the Delaware Riverfront looks like 1942 Stallingrad with bombed out factories, vacant shells, weed-strewn lots etc. This project isn't even on the river.

You idiots should be bowing southeastward towards mecca and thanking allah that 2945 LLC would even consider putting a shovel in the ground at Poplar + Delaware.

You have to start somewhere gang and Bridgmans View Tower project should be the icon you build around. But no, now they throw another set of chains(Penn Praxis) to try and break free of. So a 900' Tower housing 1000 people is in jeopardy of remaining an abandoned warehouse. That makes alot of sense.

What a joke your city is.

10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give 'em a permit for 20 floors for the time being. That's enough for them to make a boatload of money.

By the time they start building that thing and get to the 20th floor, the additional 40 floors can be contingent on the Praxis process, etc.

60 floors? The bridgemen must have very very small . . . .

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're calling our city a joke? Because we're trying to plan and review - which is what cities that still have some semblance of self respect/hope still do instead of grabbing whatever touristy project comes down the pike....

" Philadelphia should try to be more like Boston than Baltimore..."
Julia Vitullo Martin - not a Philly fan.

Nuff' said

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yo, Lord Baltimore, your city has never in its entire history achieved the prominence of a first-class American city. Any dope can ooh and ahh at your Disney harbor joke replete with its bullshit food pavilian ("mall"). They can also eat the nonsense that passes - only in your town - for Italian food in "Little Italy." Pass the gravy? No way. I'd rather eat real food. Face it, the people who say, "Hey, I know - let's go to Baltimore!" are complete freaking morons.

The beauty of Baltimore is that it is small. That has allowed it to bounce back faster and earlier. But apart from being totally plastic, Baltimore has the same ghetto neighborhoods that I saw in the early 80's and they aren't really all that far from your downtown. You're not done and you have a long way to go.

In comparison, Philadelphia was a huge manufacturing center. It was also considered the American Paris in its heyday. It went into the dumper for quite a number of reasons. But it's climbing back and it will again eclipse your wee town in due course.

At the end of the day, you live in Baltimore and you're an idiot if it is by choice.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous still waiting said...

When I first heard about redeveloping the Delaware riverfront I was 20 years of age. Well the hourglass turned and the sun has set about 11,000 times since I first heard about our grand plans for the riverfront.

So I'm fairly convinced that without developer initiative that our rust belt riverfront isn't going to improve in my life time.

Its hilarious that after 300 years the city thinks they can snap their fingers and expect a magnificiently designed waterfront. It doesn't work that way. Developers are going to have to design the waterfront in this cash strapped city of Philadelphia.

So back off and let them get busy. You've had life time to develop that waterfront- You failed miserably. Stay out of the friggin way and let the developers do their thing.

LordBaltimore was right on target.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous VINCE DEAN said...

LORD BALTIMORE WAS A RIDICULOUSLY BAD DRAG QUEEN !! BALTIMORE IS A REALLY POOR EXAMPLE OF A CITY ! BEFORE YOU TELL US HOW TO DEVELOPE OUR WATERFRONT, YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO ENLIVEN YOUR DOWNTOWN. THERE IS NO-ONE ON THE STREET ONCE YOU LEAVE THE OVERPRICED, TOURIST TRAP, INNER HARBOR ! IN FACT, THERE IS NOTHING GOING ON IN YOUR DOWNTOWN, EVERY TIME I'VE VISITED IN THE LAST 25 YEARS. PHILADELPHIA IS A PLANNED CITY AND DOESN'T NEED TO REPLACATE A FAKE WATERFRONT MALL TO SUCCEED IN ENLIVING OUR CITY. WE ARE ALIVE, ART, CULTURE, NIGHTLIFE EVERY WHER YOU TURN. SO CAUTIOUS PLANNING ON THE WATERFRONT IS SMART PLANNING ! F#%K-OFF MISS baltimore !!!!!!

9:29 PM  
Anonymous YOU KNOW WHO said...

P.S BALTIMORE IS NOT MECCA AND ALLAH IS NOT GOD !!!

9:32 PM  
Anonymous ANOYMOUSE GOD said...

ISLAM IS A LIE ! THE ON LY TRUE RELIGION IS THE CHURCH OF PHILADELPHIA. THE CHURCH OF PHILADELPHIA IS THE CHURCH OF THE HEART! IT IS THE MESSAGE THAT ALWAYS WAS AND ALWAYS WILL BE,THROUGHOUT TIME, FROM EVERY PROPHET WHO HAS COME BEFORE ME. THE MESSAGE IS: GOD IS IN YOUR HEART, THE CHURCH IS RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW -AS WE SPEAK OF IT. IT IS ABOUT RECOGNIZING GOD IN YOURSELF AND YOUR FELLOW MAN . TOGETHER, WE ARE GOD, DIVDED, WE ARE NOTHING ! GOD LOVES ALL PEOPLE EQUALLY, THIS IS THE FOUNDATION FOR THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA ! THIS IS WILLIAM PENN'S DREAM ! THIS IS LOVE ! THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE OF god.
i love you philadelphia.

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You people are pathetic. Baltimore has a great point. Here is yet another governmental layer jumping into the mix. Philly planning you say? Ha! 300 Years and what have we got on the waterfront? Nothing. How is yet another layer of bureaucratic red tape going be good? I’ve lived within 20 minutes of the Northern Liberties waterfront for over 35 years, and it’s been the same old crap. How many plans have we had in the last 50 years for our beloved waterfront? It makes me sick to think of how it’s turned out and it is should be an embarrassment for all of us Philadelphians. With BVT we have private money going into an area that could really use it. We have a developer who has worked with the community. We have approvals for almost the entire project. And now we have another bureaucrat who has stepped in to pull the plug and what will we get? We get to keep abandoned buildings instead. Is Janice Woodcock really worth $144,000 a year? For how long?

Call Baltimore what you want but the reality is that Baltimore’s waterfront is way better then ours.

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I love my hometown of Philly and would never trash it, I have to say I agree with the people who are sick of seeing every community group in the city oppose every single development project that comes down the pike.Every time something gets proposed to improve,advance,and beautify this city it gets bombarded by some neighborhood group trying to destroy it because of some stupid reasons like "There'll be to much traffic in the area" or "It'll attract undesirables"(Casino's),or my personal favorite:"Your building will block my buildings sunlight". What a joke!! Should I remind you people you live in a major city and not in Montana. Come on people,its not like they're building toxic waste dumps or country clubs for murderers and rapists!! Its a damn office building/condo!!This is why New York overshadows us and has become what it is.Because they get things done.Philadelphia was once one of the greatest cities in the world, but we fell behind.Some people are trying to make Philadelphia great again, so stop stepping on their toes and get out of their way.Yeah I know they're in it for the money too,I'm not nieve, but come on lets get serious,what ever would get done without money being involved.We'd all still be living in self made huts on a prairie if that were the case.So if you dont want to be around traffic,large groups of people,or you dont want a shadow on your building, please do all of us Philadelphians who want to irradicate the blight in Philly and make it a beautiful world class city again and move to a farm in Kansas so Philadelphia can RISE!!!!

2:30 PM  

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