Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Plan Now, Build Later

The rezoning request for Bridgman's View, a 900-foot-tall, hotel-and-condo tower that aspires to be the tallest residential building in Philadelphia, came up for discussion again today at the meeting of City Council's rules committee. As I argued in my Nov. 2 post, Council needs to send a clear message on this one: It must inform the developer that there will be a moratorium on all zoning changes for the Delaware waterfront until Penn Praxis completes its comprehensive waterfront plan. Yet, for reasons that defy logic, Councilman Frank DiCiccio, who played a key role in setting up the Penn Praxis study, urged the rules committee to put the rezoning up for a vote by the full council.
DiCiccio seems to feel that, because Bridgman patiently negotiated the zoning change with the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, it would be unfair to stop them this late in the game. But Harris Steinberg, the executive director for Penn Praxis, who testified to the committee today, did a good job of explaining what's at stake for the city. Here's the full written statement that Steinberg submitted, with some key points boldfaced by me.

Good morning Madam President and members of the Rules Committee, my name is Harris Steinberg and I am the executive director of PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania. I am also a member of the Faculty of Architecture of the School of Design at Penn.
I am here today to testify on Bill No. 060731 which was introduced by Councilmember DiCicco on 28 September 2006. Bill No. 060731 rezones a 1.2 acre parcel of land located in an area bounded by Canal Street, Laurel Street, Delaware Avenue and Lewellen Street from a zoning designation of “G-2” General Industrial to a zoning designation of “C-5” Commercial.
PennPraxis was authorized by executive order on 12 October 2006 to work with the city and the citizens of Philadelphia to create a “civic vision for the Central Delaware Riverfront that balances the public good, access to the waterfront, open space and quality urban development.” The vision for the people’s waterfront will be based on a robust civic engagement series of public forums that will inform world-class design talent who will translate the goals and aspiration of Philadelphians into a 21st century roadmap for development of the Central Delaware from Allegheny Avenue to Oregon Avenue and from the river to I-95. The process is anticipated to take one year to complete.
Philadelphia is at a crossroads and developers are flocking to our city. This is something to celebrate and support which we do. In order to ensure that the physical city is well designed, beautiful and healthy, contributing to the quality of life of all Philadelphians, we must look at building designs and zoning in the framework of the city and the region. In this instance, Council is being asked to grant Central Business District land-use status to a single parcel in one of the most historic and sensitive areas of the city. Furthermore, we believe that making zoning changes on a parcel-by-parcel basis (a practice commonly referred to as “spot zoning”) is not in the best interest of the city.
Earlier this month we requested additional time before you move on Bill No. 060731 so that the people of Philadelphia could do their work to envision the future of the entire Central Delaware Riverfront. We noted that the Bridgeman’s View parcel will play a critical role in the transformation of Philadelphia’s waterfront from an industrial relic to a vibrant part of a cutting-edge, competitive city in the new knowledge economy. We invited the Bridgeman’s View development team to become active members of the planning process, taking a leadership role in working with the citizens of Philadelphia to create a world-class vision for the waterfront.
Following the hearing in early November, we met with the developers, the Planning Commission and Councilman DiCicco and expressed our concerns that the then-1700 car proposed garage would be situated across from one, and possibly two, 5000-car casino garages. We strongly urged the team to use the opportunity of the Central Delaware planning process to develop a comprehensive and holistic understanding of the impact of the increased traffic from Bridgeman’s View and other proposed development on Delaware Avenue. We noted the traffic problems on South Columbus Boulevard which resulted from the unintended consequences of unplanned development and cautioned the team to think beyond the specifics of their site.
In our outreach on this project to date (15 civic association meetings, three public walk-and-talks, meetings with port-related entities, developers, lawyers, Council, state representatives, and more), we strongly heard that current and anticipated traffic along Delaware Avenue is the primary concern of all stakeholders. Despite the wealth of proposed development along Delaware Avenue (15 condominium towers along with the casinos), there has not been a single comprehensive study that addresses the development impact on existing traffic and transportation infrastructure.
To begin to address this critical concern, Praxis reached out to one of the country’s leading traffic engineers. We are in the process of engaging them to assess current traffic conditions from Oregon Avenue to Girard Avenue coupled with anticipated traffic from new development like Bridgeman’s’ View as well as the casinos. We expect to have a preliminary analysis completed by December 20th in time for the announcement of the state casino licenses. We are working on this with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
We will continue to use the opportunity afforded by the Central Delaware planning process to hear from and report on the concerns of the people of Philadelphia and use our position to connect appropriate governmental offices and resources to address pressing issues. We urge Council to take the impact of increased traffic on Delaware Avenue seriously. In order to ensure that the Central Delaware becomes a vital contributing part of 21st century Philadelphia, all development along Delaware Avenue must be viewed as part of a larger design and planning system. Traffic and transportation, in particular, has a definite and serious impact on the quality of life for near residents and visitors. It must be carefully studied and traffic management plans must be put into place so that Philadelphia reacts responsibly and intelligently to the challenges that quality development brings.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Must we question all development as if it is ill-conceived and poorly planned? Adding a world-class LEED certified residential skyscraper to an otherwise derelict/defunct/dilapidated industrial waterfront will only benefit the immediate neighbors and the city at large. Pretending to be on the designer/planner moral high ground is good and all, but when the development is so desperately needed, please come on. Concerns over traffic are only natural. But guess what, traffic congestion is a necessary evil that comes with a growing and thriving metropolis. Worrying about how to design a better public transit system should be an imperative that is on people's tongues instead. What we really need is to devote political will to encouraging more intelligent and appropriate designs when plans are entirely out of context. But in the Northern Liberties neighborhood, a place that has become hip and trendy, where the Civic association is supportive, why undermine or dismiss their diligence and progress as if it was irrelevant? The political will should be more positive and filled with less nay-sayers and NIMBY sympathizers as we need more bold and deliberate action in this City. Reducing crime by improving the public school system and creating a more conducive business climate should be at the top of everyone's list, not thwarting cooperative developers intent on bettering the City.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous supenn said...

piece by piece development will lead to reactive if any fix-its regarding traffic and general flow of design(s) along Columbus.
Public transport would be the way to go - welcome to aMErica - only when gas reaches $5.00 or more a gallon will a majority of aMEricans consider public transportation.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous 2y6 said...

So is there a conclusion to todays hearing? Does Penn Praxis have the final say? Does it come up for council vote? What happens next?

5:56 PM  
Anonymous chester said...

Or if Philadelphia history holds true to form.

Plan Now,(take campaign bribes-grease local politician),Twiddle thumbs later.

You have a developer risking hundreds of millions of dollars to improve a basketcase of a neighborhood and you want to give him yet another hurdle to jump. Great plan.

Please, using South Columbus Blvds. big box hellhole as a reason not to build this amazing structure is plain out idiotic.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Joseph said...

Seriously. Bringing in that stuff to South Philly was no problem, yet bringing something COOL and GOOD for the city to a blighted hellhole of an area now, this upsets people? Are you kidding me. This city. Christ. If they want to plan something, awesome, but plan it around this. They've done all their homework and won the praise of the neighborhood *that will actually be affected*. If BVT dies, then there's no hope for Philadelphia.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No just wait a year for Penn Praxis to develop their ivory tower plan while interest rates and construction costs go up making the project less economical and profitable to build.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No just wait a year for Penn Praxis to develop their ivory tower plan while interest rates and construction costs go up making the project less economical and profitable to build."


Right, because we all know that if a project isn't developed during the present waning building boom, there will never ever be anything built on that site in perpetuity.

/sarcasm off

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with DiCicco -- give it the go! Some of the best buildings in Philadelphia were not always the best received -- City Hall for instance.

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a moral component here. The developer engaged in negotiations with the various stakeholders who reached concensus that the project should go forward. It is wrong to hold up the project at this juncture. The City should not screw a developer who negotiated in good faith just because it has badly managed (not managed) development to date.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

City hall is a nice building but it is a real disaster for travel into and out of or around. If we could move the building away from the intersection of broad and market would anyone ever suggest moving it back. No. Because that location is terrible.
Bridgemans is a good design. There is a concern about making the traffic worse, putting a huge parking garage on the delaware, and blocking the future public path along the river. These concerns are valid. Does anyone have any NEW information about them?
All I see is whiny complainers, high on opinions and low on facts.

7:09 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Who cares about this plan and Penn Praxis? This plan is completely rediculous, there's no market for these condos. Most of my friends living over in that area carry mace and half of them have used it. Even if this tower was built on Rittenhouse Square, the boom is over, the buyers have gone home, and Philadelphia downtown is looking at a 10+ year slowdown once the current projects are completed. This is not Chicago or Midtown, large numbers of well-heeled people are not going to buy "vacation" or "workweek" condos in this city for years to come. We need to get over zoning boards and crazy developers and focus on the reality of fixing taxes and reversing the flow of business out of the city. What Inga needs to mention, as unrelated to architecture as some may find it, is how little some of the Parkway parking lots dominating the street scape pay in taxes every year. It's public record. I also can't wait to find out these soon to be bankrupt developers were financed by city pension funds...

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree absolutely with Greg. While it is necessary to have planning to guide growth into the best possible resulting urban form, you first need real growth. Real growth will only come once the economy of the city improves, uplifting the quality of life aspects that drive growth. Center City is a real gem, but is surrounded by a stagnating, if not declining, city. Planning sidewalk width, greenspace location, building height, facade material, parking access, etc are all the peices that should come together to blend a pleasant urban fabric. But the real list of to-do's should be the homicide rate, unemployment, education, drop-out rates, homelessness, taxes of all kinds, transportation, etc. From what I read, these areas all need much, much better attention than current government provides.

The recent housing boom is a good indication of the state of Philadelphia's anemic economy. If the business climate was as strong as it could and should be, there would've been a tidal wave of growth. I'm not discounting the growth that has occurred in the past five years, becuase it was substantial. But a city the size of Philadelphia, located dead-center on the Northeast coast, on the main rail, highway, water and air routes, 100 miles from the world's financial capital and the seat of federal power for the planet, close to beached, mountains, abundant farmlands, etc, should be prospering way more than it is. I can only conclude that the drag of sloppy, corrupt, inefficient government that has no long term vision keeps the city down. I understand the problems are deeply rooted and complex, but my gosh, where is evidence of any civic gumption to get up off your duff and get that city moving in the right direction?

7:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i really appreciate the previous two comments. thank you for posting. let's have more of this type of talk.

11:38 AM  
Anonymous homeslice said...

Why do I get the sneaky suspicion the last 3 above posts^^^ were made by the same person?

Truth be told no one knows what the future will behold. One thing we do know is that the city itself has been unable to improve the waterfront. Any improvement that is getting done is by private developers e.g. Keatings Hyatt at Penns Landing, Isle of Capris Waterfront Square, and now Mark Stein 2245 LLc Bridgemans View Tower.

If someone wants to put out a rational argument that the city has magically flipped a switch and can become the leading force in making a world class waterfront I'll listen. Until then step aside and let the developers work with the local neighborhood associations in evolving and improving the city.

Yes Penn Praxis can put their view on what a world class waterfront should entail, but if that isn't suitable to the developer, Penn Praxis becomes a mute point as the city doesn't have 2 cents to implement that view.

This is the age and land of the developer so step aside and let them do their thing.

This isn't ancient Greece or even 18th century america where you had citizens(making pennies) who cared about building magnificient soceities more than they worried about being able to keep up with the Jones's- buying $500,000 dollar houses in Cherry Hill and driving around in 2007 Dode Rams.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Sharon said...

Just remember that a ban on rezoning isn't the same as a ban on development. Make it too difficult for residential developers and what you might get instead are projects permitted under the existing G-2 classification. Sure, chances of a manufacturing plant being built on the waterfront are slim, but how about an office building,a storage facility, or even a billboard? Because all of these -- and quite a few more obnoxious uses -- are permitted as of right in G-2 districts. Which means that a developer could go into L&I tomorrow, file a zoning application and, within a matter of weeks, obtain an over the counter permit. And at that point, there's not a thing City Council, the Planning Commission or Penn Praxis could do about it.

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh, nothing like the pleasing sounds of a developer making a threat. Go for it bucko. Construct a manufacturing plant, we dare ya.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous sharon said...

I'm not a developer; I'm someone pointing out the risks of placing a moratorium on rezoning for a year or more. Having done so, let me also suggest a possible solution. Rather than leave the existing zoning in place, City Council should immediately rezone the remaining G-2 parcels to some interim, more appropriate zoning classification. There are, for instance, residential districts that prohibit both industrial uses and highrise residential development. Rezoning to one of these classifications would prevent approval of undesirable uses prior to completion of the planning process. It would also deprive developers of any "hardship" or "taking" claim.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What city councilman would introduce that?

8:41 PM  
Anonymous sharon said...

Rezoning ordinances are nearly always introduced by the councilperson whose district includes the area being rezoned. For the waterfront, that would be DiCicco and Krajewski.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It amazes me that I hear Philadelphians that are against building world class structures on Delaware Ave. I mean on the side that isn’t over the waterfront therefore it can’t actually block people from access to the waterfront. People please look at our waterfront and tell me how this project won’t help. Please also consider that this building would be a pinnacle that would be built around. It’s a statement of “Philadelphia can do this!” instead of Philadelphia’s “Can’t do this!”. Again, just look at the waterfront again before you chase away one of the best proposals that we’ve seen in a long time.

Traffic issues will arise, that’s normal. That’s exactly the kind of thing PennPraxis should be focusing on. Not putting more units in two squatter towers instead of one tall sleek building.

Maybe we should be listening to all three Gregs above, I mean it’s exactly that kind of attitude that created the waterfront as we know it today. Thinking about that amazes me. But then again when we talk about the last 75 years of Philadelphia history, the pay to play, the corrupt politicians and the like I remember that it was actually my fellow Philadelphians that voted them all the politicians in.

7:48 PM  

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