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Save Jewelers Row petition gains quick support in the face of proposed development

What would Jeweler’s Row look like with a brand-new 16-story mixed-use residential tower plopped onto the 700 block of Sansom Street? Philly citizens are grappling with the prospect ever since The Inquirer broke the news about the proposed Toll Brothers development. The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia acted quickly.

To unify the voices who believe that demolishing five properties from 702-710 Sansom Street would be a loss to Philly’s historic urban fabric, the Preservation Alliance launched a Save Jewelers Row! petition, addressed to City of Philadelphia Director of Planning and Development Anne Fadullon.

Less than a week after its launch on August 11, the petition had garnered almost 3,500 signatures and many comments from concerned locals.

"It was a tool available to give the many people out there who find this proposal shocking and upsetting a voice -- to say to City officials and the developer that we, Philadelphians, don’t want this to happen on Jewelers Row," explains Paul Steinke, executive director at the Preservation Alliance.

He says that the targeted buildings on the brick-paved street are typical of the original Jewelers Row built environment: "small-scale buildings of different sizes, shapes and styles," many dating from the mid-19th century.

"Jewelers Row is the oldest diamond district or jewelry district in the U.S., and the second-largest after New York," adds Steinke, calling it "one of the most iconic retail districts in the city."

The petition’s immediate goal is saving the buildings in question, and maybe with a strong enough response from preservationists and area residents, the developer could be persuaded to build on vacant land or a parking lot.

"Gouging out these six buildings will forever alter Jewelers Row and ruin one of our city’s most iconic destinations," the petition reads.

But Steinke also hopes the petition will help bring attention to larger issues, including the neighborhood’s CMX-5 zoning code, which enabled the project in the first place. That zoning -- which is the same zoning as for buildings like the Comcast Center or Liberty Place -- is "too dense for a street like Jewelers Row," he insists.

Another issue is that Jewelers Row is not a designated local historic district. It’s recognized as "contributing to a national historic district," but is not itself protected. The trouble lies with Philly’s Historical Commission, which, according to Steinke, has not designated any new historic districts since 2010.

"I think the interest in [the petition] is really prodigious," he adds. "It sends a strong signal that Philadelphians care about their city’s historic fabric and are concerned about its potential loss at the hands of developers."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Paul Steinke, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia

Saxbys Coffee preps new cafe and corporate headquarters in Philadelphia

In a world where coffee snobs are more interested in small-batch roasting houses like Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia than international chains, there's no longer a lot of street cred to be gained by wandering around town with a cardboard Starbucks cup. But if you're the type who's more concerned with showing off your hometown Philly pride, you might want to consider developing a Saxbys Coffee habit.
The chain was founded in Atlanta in 2005, but relocated two years later to Delaware County. Saxbys has now plans to move its corporate headquarters once again, this time to Philadelphia proper. And while Saxbys is keeping mum about the date of its upcoming move -- and hasn't yet closed on a location -- those details should be made public this summer.

According to president and CEO Nick Bayer, the company also has tentative plans to open eight new cafes throughout the Mid-Atlantic region this year. Locally, a lease has been signed on a 1,700-square-foot location the company is calling Saxbys Wash West. Scheduled to open on the southwest corner of 11th and Locust this summer, it'll be their sixth location in the city.

"We're also looking at a couple other pieces of real estate in Philly that may deliver this year," says Bayer, who adds that he's also been working for the past 18 months on a deal with Drexel University. "We can't announce exactly where it is just yet," he says of the Drexel cafe, "but it's going to be something very unique; it's going to be much more than just a traditional neighborhood coffee shop."
Stay tuned to Flying Kite for more details as the deals develop.
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Nick Bayer, Saxbys Coffee 

Play Time: Seger Park unveils phase one renovation

On January 26, the Friends of Seger Park Playground (FOSPP) will hold an open house, officially celebrating their brand new playground equipment (the area opened to the public on January 11). The renovation effort has been five years in the making, and netted $500,000 worth of improvements to the Washington Square West park, located on Lombard between 10th and 11th Streets.

From 2 to 5 p.m., FOSPP will showcase their play equipment while also saying "thank you" to supporters. The open house will also offer an opportunity to raise awareness for the group's next big venture: a Phase II, $250,000 renovation that will bring an iconic, functional water feature to the park.

That project—dubbed Fluidscape—is the winning concept from a summer 2011 design competition. Sixteen entries were received from around the world, voting was held that July, and a jury of community and city representatives convened to make the final decision.

"We wanted a Center City landmark, something to brand the park as well as the neighborhood," says FOSPP's Wendy Ramunno. "We also wanted a functional sprayground that could be used by kids." This desire led the jury to choose Fluidscape, an entry designed by Kansas State architecture professor Nathan Howe.  

Ramunno says the design competition was created out of necessity: The park’s current water feature is broken, and the cost to repair it is prohibitive. Since kids in Center City—especially those without access to a pool or beach—need a safe place to cool off during hot Philly summers, something had to be done.

With Fluidscape, Ramunno and FOSPP believe they have found a solid solution. Once complete, the concrete structure will rise from the ground, creating water flows, tunnels, showers and mists for kids to enjoy. In the winter, the structure can be utilized for snow forts, igloos and tunnels.

Ramunno and FOSPP are hesitant to set a timeline for construction to commence, but with $50,000 already in the bank and $200,000 to go, Ramunno believes their fundraising goal is within reach. "We’re really happy with the progress so far," she says, "but we’re still very focused on getting the money raised and construction started as soon as possible."  

Source: Wendy Ramunno, Friends of Seger Park Playground
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Gay-friendly affordable housing set to break ground in Center City

When it comes to Gay Philadelphia, there’s a lot to be proud of.  After all, the city features one of the country’s most recognizable, tightly knit ‘Gayborhoods’ in Center City, acting as the focal point of GLBT civic life for the region.  Building off this identity, City, State and gay leaders will later this week officially break ground on the William Way residences, a one of a kind, $20 million gay-friendly senior affordable housing project on 13th Street, smack dab in the middle of the Gayborhood.        

“There is only one other type of facility like this in the nation. That’s in L.A.,” explains Mark Segal, who is the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News and has spearheaded the project thus far.  He says that what makes the William Way residences so unique because of how it has been funded.  “It’s the first effort to use traditional ways to finance and build an affordable GLBT-friendly housing project.” 

By 'traditional,' Segel means 'public' - the project is being financed with a multitude of city, state and federal funds.  One of the funding sources, the Dr. Manus Hirschfeld Fund, is a GLBT advocacy group that was formed in 2004 to support the gay community.  They received an $11 million grant from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency earlier this year.  This money, combined with $8 million in already allocated government grants, allowed the project to move forward to where it is today.    
The new 6-story structure will feature 56 one-bedroom units, a 5,000-square-foot enclosed courtyard, and multipurpose spaces that residents and the community can use. Plans also include roughly 2,000 square feet of retail space that will front 13th Street. 

Living in the residences will be geared towards seniors in the gay community so they have a place to comfortably live without possible stresses of being discriminated against in other public housing.  Even though affordable housing laws dictate that eligibility to live in public housing based on sexual preference is illegal, the building is able to market itself as ‘gay friendly’ to draw special interest from GLBT seniors.  But the facility will be open to anyone that is at least 62 years old and earns less than 60 percent of the Philadelphia median income. 

Due to Hurricane Sandy pushing construction timetables back (the original groundbreaking was set for Oct. 29th), the official groundbreaking is now set for later this week on Friday, Nov. 9 at 11 a.m. at 249 S. 13th Street.  Mayor Nutter will be in attendance and will unveil the official name of the new building.  He will be joined by former Governor Ed Rendell, numerous city and state officials as well as a number of high profile GLBT civil rights pioneers.  Segal believes the project will take up to 15 months to complete and should be ready for occupation in early 2014.        

Source: Mark Segal, Philadelphia Gay News 
WriterGreg Meckstroth

New pedestrian scale lighting adds vitality, safety to Chinatown, Old City, Washington Square West

Ever walk a city block in Philly at night and wonder what gives that piece of street a sense of place? All too often, it’s the details that deliver; small fixtures or amenities in the urban realm that cater to the pedestrian user. Over the years, the Center City District has understood the importance of high quality pedestrian features on city blocks, something that hasn’t escaped their priority list to this day. More recently it has installed 124 pedestrian-scale light fixtures in three areas of Center City: Chinatown, Old City and Washington Square West.   
In Chinatown, ornamental pagoda lights were installed in the 900 and 1000 blocks of Arch Street plus 10th Street between Arch and Race Streets.  New lights were also added along Eighth Street between Market and Filbert Streets. 
In Old City, the CCD added pedestrian lighting to two blocks on Third Street between Market and Race Streets. And in Washington Square West, new lighting was added to the 1000 block of Spruce, and on 11th and 12th Streets, between Spruce and Pine Streets.
These recent improvements are the latest in a series of lighting installments the CCD has been implementing since 1996.  In all, $24 million has been spent and 2,179 ornamental lights have gone up, mostly around Rittenhouse, Washington and Logan Squares.  With 2/3 of all blocks finished in the district, CCD is always strategizing on where to implement the next round of lighting improvements.   “Our goal is to finish the balance of the blocks in the CCD,” explains Paul Levy, President and CEO of Center City District.
The purpose of the program has always been to “add vibrancy to the streetscape, improve safety and encourage people to visit businesses and restaurants,” says Levy.  Lighting is particularly important in fostering the ’24-hour downtown’ that Center City already is, a status Levy and others want to maintain and strengthen. 
Expect other parts of Chinatown and undeveloped areas within Center City to continue seeing pedestrian lighting improvements as development occurs.  “Since most of the remaining (unfinished) blocks are in areas where new development is still occurring, we usually partner with developers when they complete their projects,” says Levy, who says CCD's efforts to cover all blocks will be complete within five years. 

Source: Paul Levy, President and CEO of Center City District
WriterGreg Meckstroth

City still encouraging homeowners to apply for proposed Homestead Exemption tax break

The City of Philadelphia's Actual Value Initiative (AVI) might be on hold until next fiscal year, but it is still banking on real estate tax relief in the form of proposed Homestead Exemption legislation. Homeowners must apply by July 31, 2012, and the only requirement for acceptance into the program is that the you must own your home and live in it. It's actually a very simple process. On July 1, says Marisa Waxman, Office of Property Assessment, Philadelphia homeowners will receive a pre-printed application, so there's no need to take action until then.

"It's a tax relief program that already exists in every other county in the Commonwealth," says Waxman, who points out that other efforts both statewide and nationwide are often far more complicated.

Age, income and length of homeownership do not figure into eligibility. Here's how it works: you will pay taxes on the value of your home minus $30,000.  For example, if a home is assessed at a value of $100,000 and there is a $30,000 Homestead Exemption,  a homeowner would only pay taxes based on $70,000 compared with the actual value of $100,000.

"The City is currently undertaking a reassessment which will value properties at their market value. For residential properties, the comparable sales method is utilized in most cases. For commercial properties, the income/expense method is utilized in most," explains Waxman. 

It does not matter if your home is worth $1 million or $80,000. You still get that flat $30,000 discount. Waxman says the greatest benefit will be for those with lower value homes. "It's the simplest program on the planet once we get it up and running."

The homestead real estate tax exclusion will be available for properties located within the City of Philadelphia when legislation is passed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a City of Philadelphia ordinance also has to go into effect. But city officials are encouraging residents to apply now, as it can help reduce the taxable assessed value used for calculation of a tax bill by a proposed $30,000. 
Even if part of a primary residence is used as a home office or a rental property, a property owner may still be eligible to benefit from the Homestead Exemption for the percentage of the property that functions as the primary residence. 
Following approval, there's no need to reapply unless the deed to the home changes.

Applications received after the deadline for this year will be considered for tax year 2014. Those who are approved in this initial round will be notified in the fall of 2012, pending passage of AVI.

Source: Marisa Waxman, Office of Property Assessment, City of Philadelphia
Writer: Sue Spolan

Spiga gives growing culinary hotspot Midtown Village an Italian dining option

Thanks to the work of Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran, Midtown Village is quickly becoming a dining destination. Earlier this year, we told you about their newest restaurant, Jamonera, which is a Spanish-style tapas bar on 13th St., just south of Chestnut. Now, this gastronomical blitz is extending to Locust St. in Midtown, as the casual Italian restaurant Spiga opened this past weekend. Spiga is co-owned by Anthony Masapollo, who is also know for Le Castagne in Rittenhouse and La Famiglia in Old City, and the executive chef is Brian Wilson.

Masapollo is elated to be a part of the Midtown Village community. “We sat outside El Vez, and I thought to myself, ‘this is where I want to be’,” says Masapollo. He adds that he loves the community feeling in Midtown. He made sure to join the Midtown Village Merchants Association last week. The partner is also planning on working with other businesses, such as the 12th St. Gym, to do outreach. Masapollo says that another perk of being in the neighborhood is that it connects Le Castagne and La Famiglia by providing a midpoint. 

Spiga, which translates to stalk or stem, can best be described as a casual Italian restaurant. Chef Wilson’s menu items include pasta, pizza, burgers, and steak, fish, and pork chop from the eatery’s two wood-burning grills. Masapollo is especially proud of the wood-fired grills. “It’s like cooking outdoors,” he says. For those with wheat allergies, gluten-free items are also available. Patrons are encouraged to share menu items. Spiga also has a bar on the premises, which serves up wine and cocktails. 

The restaurant is located at 1305 Locust St., which is convenient to PATCO, the Broad St. Subway, and a parking lot. Before Spiga, the location housed a few LGBT-themed lounges, the last of which was JR’s Lounge. Masapollo says he and his business partners had been looking to create Spiga for quite a while. He says they first set their sights on the Locust St. location last summer. 

Spiga seats 70 people between the main dining room and the bar. They are generally open until 10 PM on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends, although they are closed on Mondays and close early on Sundays. In addition to Masapollo and Wilson, Skip DiMassa and Giuseppe Sena are co-owners. Entrees generally cost between $12 and $30, while some appetizers cost as little as $4. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Anthony Masapollo

Photo courtesy of Spiga

With success on the ground, Center City looks up for more office jobs, high-rise renovations

There are some richly exciting things happening with Center City residential, commercial, and transportation development, but there are also areas that beg for improvement. This was one of the takeaways from last week's panel, "The Next Cycle of Downtown Development," held by the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation (CPDC).  The program was moderated by CPDC and Center City District executive director Paul Levy, and featured executives at Liberty Property Trust, Brandywine Realty Trust, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), and the Parkway Corporation.

Levy delivered opening remarks that ought to have provoked optimism. These remarks served to preface the release of the Center City District's "State of Center City Report," which is expected this week. Levy defines the "Center City core" as being the neighborhoods between Vine and Pine St., while he ambitiously defines "Center City extended" as being the communities between Girard Ave. and Tasker St. Levy reports that residential prices in the "extended" Center City zone are quite healthy, with the average value being $310,446. 

The opening remarks contained more points of pride for those who live, work, take classes, shop, or play in the extended downtown. Levy saysthis area is second to only New York City in terms of the number of "cultural institutions." He adds that the hospitality sector is performing strongly in Center City, as job growth in this field "is outpacing the suburbs." Finally, Levy is ecstatic that sustainable transportation is becoming a more and more appealing alternative to driving for downtown inhabitants, as 74% of Center City "core" residents commute to work without a car.  

While the executive director's remarks accentuated the positives in both the core and extended parts of Center City, they also drew attention to the area's bleeding of high-rise office jobs. Levy says that 39% of private sector jobs in Center City are in office buildings, which is the highest percent of private sector employment. Even with population growth in Philadelphia and its suburbs, these Center City offices continue to lose jobs, even while offices in Radnor, Great Valley, and elsewhere are gaining positions.

After Levy wrapped up his report, the executives on the panel began discussing how the city can draw more office jobs. John Gattuso, the senior VP and regional director at Liberty Property Trust, hinted at a new office high-rise to be proposed within the next couple of years. He also mentioned that Three Franklin Plaza, which currently houses GlaxoSmithKline, will be undergoing a "significant" $30 million renovation, with the installation of new bathrooms and elevators, for when Glaxo moves out. This anticipates the building at 18th and Race "will be coming to market in 2014," says Gattuso.   

Joseph Coradino, president of PREIT, also imparted some nuggets of hope on the audience. While he spent considerable time talking about PREIT's suburban development, such as at the Cherry Hill Mall, he also said good things were in store for PREIT's Gallery at Market East. He said Philadelphia Media Network's move to 8th and Market coupled with the new digital sign allowance for Market East could signal a rebirth for the beleaguered strip. He expressed a desire to "activate The Gallery at the street level," which would mean opening sidewalk cafes at the mall. 

Sources: Paul Levy, Central Philadelphia Development Corporation; John Gattuso, Liberty Property Trust; Joseph Coradino, PREIT
Writer: Andy Sharpe

New pedestrian advocacy group's agenda includes improving intersections

When it comes to sustainable transportation around Philadelphia, pedestrians have been without an active group speaking on their behalf since PhillyWalks ended about a decade ago. While bicyclists have enjoyed advocacy from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and mass transit riders have been represented by the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, pedestrians have not found a similar voice recently. That is, until now. The Clean Air Council has just formed a pedestrian advocacy group, and is in the process of creating an agenda for those who travel with two feet on the pavement.

This new group, dubbed the "Pedestrian Advocacy Project," has met twice so far and has crowdsourced its agenda through the hundreds of people who are on its listserv, according to Dennis Winters, a trails associate at the Council who is leading the project. Winters says e-mail participants indicated the biggest problem facing pedestrians is that "red-green lights (are) not synced right." In other words, traffic lights around the Philadelphia area often favor motorists over pedestrians.

At the project’s second meeting, the 10 or so attendees largely agreed with the e-mail survey. They discussed intersections in Philadelphia, such as 20th and JFK Blvd., that are not as pedestrian-friendly as they believe they should be. Attendees arrived at the conclusion that pedestrian countdown signals and corresponding traffic lights should be re-timed to equalize the playing field between drivers and walkers. By the end of the evening, a committee had formed to study pedestrian countdown signals, and how they could be improved.

One prevailing question for the nascent advocacy group is whether pedestrian countdown signals themselves are to blame for diminishing the pedestrian experience, or whether bad behavior on the part of motorists is to blame. Deborah Schaaf, an employee of the City Planning Commission and a walker herself, says that police enforcement of aggressive driving had to be cut short due to lack of funds. In fact, police overtime money that was supposed to go to the "Give respect, get respect" campaign targeting vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian infractions instead went to Occupy Philly coverage.

The Pedestrian Advocacy Project’s online members also indicated that the presence of outdoor seating and other obstructions blocking sidewalks, traffic laws not being adequately enforced, and aggressive drivers turning left were other impediments for pedestrians. Most members of the listserv attended the Academy of Natural Sciences forum "Walkability: Philadelphia Strides into the Future," which was where the pedestrian advocacy group was unveiled. Given that just about everyone in Philadelphia walks, even if it is just to get to their car or train, this group could help a lot of people.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dennis Winters

Proposed townhouses could relieve pain point at 12th and Lombard

While the residential neighborhood around it has taken off, the intersection of 12th and Lombard has found itself caught in the chokehold of The Pain Center.  The Pain Center was a medical facility recently shut down after a grand jury investigation revealed the doctors had been defrauding insurance companies out of $5 million. Yet, a local developer seems to have some non-painful news for the area, as he hopes to convert the facility into six townhouses. 

The community seems intrigued by developer Virgil Procaccino’s preliminary plans to tear down The Pain Center and build single-family units, says David Fante, VP for planning and development at the Washington Square West Civic Association (WSWCA).  Fante reports that Procaccino went in front of the civic association’s Zoning and Governmental Affairs committee in early March with some plans. The committee seems impressed. The "townhouses are well-designed, attractive, and in keeping with the residential scale of the neighborhood," says Fante.

While WSWCA’s committee was generally excited about Procaccino’s plans, they did have a few recommendations. Fante says they felt as though the developer should reduce the building’s height in accordance with the city’s new zoning code and offer a gate to provide access to the complex’s proposed parking lot. Fante is happy to say that the developer seems ready to accept the recommendations. 

Fante and other members of the civic association are breathing a sigh of relief that something will be done with The Pain Center. Fante complains about the drug-dealing and prostitution that have moved to 12th and Lombard in the wake of the building’s closure.  Also, he sees litter and a lack of activity in front of the building as problems. Fante adds that new residential would lead to enhanced street lighting and increase the neighborhood’s density, which he sees as a good thing. 

If you have an opinion on The Pain Center re-development, make sure to attend a future WSWCA meeting.  The Zoning and Governmental Affairs Committee meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at Jefferson University, while the overall Board meets the second Tuesday of every month in the same location.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: David Fante, Washington Square West Civic Association

Franklin Square's pavilion is now open; kids immediately party with Ben Franklin

Franklin Square celebrated the opening of its sixth season with a ribbon-cutting for The Pavilion at Franklin Square.

One lucky tot, Jason McKenzie, got to be the first person to have a party in the pavilion, as he celebrated his third birthday with Ben Franklin (aka Ralph Archbold).

Officials from Historic Philadelphia, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the William Penn Foundation (which funded the pavilion), and Starr Restaurants (which owns SquareBurger on the square) were on-hand. Check out our previous coverage here.

-- Andy Sharpe

Philly has 2,500 acres for urban farming, crop value of $10M-plus, says Green Space Alliance study

The Pennsylvania Convention Center Annex was filled with the redolent scents of artisanal cheese, creamy gelato, freshly-baked bread and biscotti, and premium steeped tea last Sunday. These scents formed the aromatic calling card for the Philly Farm and Food Fest, which was co-organized by Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). One of the highlights of the convention was a panel discussion on the Green Space Alliance’s recent study “Transforming open space to sustainable farm enterprises.”

The panel discussion started with an outline of Green Space Alliance’s (GSA’s) findings, which include recommendations on public outreach, zoning and planning, and urban areas. One of the chief findings is that GSA should extend an arm to local governments, land trusts, and conservancies to generate knowledge about sustainable farming. Under zoning, the study concludes that specific ordinance definitions should be drafted, says Justin Keller, an architect with Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, which prepared the study for GSA. 

Finally, the study advises that incentives be created for urban farms that bolster stormwater management through the elimination of impervious surfaces. It specifically pinpoints urban farms as sources of sorely-needed nourishment in food deserts and job creators in neighborhoods with rampant unemployment. GSA found that the city of Philadelphia has nearly 2,500 acres that can be used for farming, which could yield a crop value between $6.4 and $10.8 million, says Peter Simone, also an architect with Simone Collins.

After Simone Collins presented the study, three panelists offered conference-goers some feedback. Nic Esposito, who farms at East Kensington’s Emerald St. Urban Farm, is interested in the study’s examination of municipal land, as his farm is owned by three different city agencies. While the study looks at both CSAs and farms that donate food, Esposito makes sure to mention that Emerald St. donates all the food it generates from chickens and bees. He also adds that Councilwoman Sanchez and Councilman Green’s land bank resolution in City Council would be an asset for urban farming on vacant land.

Another panelist was Joan Blaustein, chair of the Philadelphia Food Policy Council and a director in the city’s department of Parks and Recreation. Blaustein, who grows food in her own backyard garden, emphasizes the practical nature of urban gardening. Urban gardens “should satisfy the social needs of people in the city,” says Blaustein. She proceeds to give the city a pat on the back for emphasizing urban farms in its Greenworks plan and mentioning it in its new zoning code

The third panelist was Fred DeLong, a project director at the Willistown Conservation Trust and Rushton Farm in Chester County. DeLong differs from the other panelists in that his farm certainly isn’t urban. Nonetheless, he has a similar goal to the study and his fellow panelists. “Willistown Conservation Trust wants to connect people to the land,” says DeLong. He adds that within the trust is the Rushton Farm, which is a natural community-supported agriculture (CSA) within an 80-acre nature preserve.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Justin Keller, Peter Simone, Nic Esposito, Joan Blaustein, and Fred DeLong, panelists at Philly Farm and Food Fest

Illustration courtesy of Philly Farm and Food Fest   

Liberty Bike Share builds support, strategy to introduce long-awaited bike sharing program

What do New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Baltimore, Spartanburg SC, and Hollywood FL all have in common? Hopefully you’ll have an answer by the time I’m finished with this sentence. If you don’t, these are all East Coast cities that offer bike sharing. Notice that Philadelphia is not in there. With this in mind, a team from the University of Pennsylvania is looking to put our city on par with the likes of Spartanburg by establishing Liberty Bike Share, which aims to bring bike sharing to Center City, University City, South Philly, and the Temple University-area.

Liberty Bike Share is the product of three Masters degree candidates at UPenn who closely analyzed the 2010 Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) “Philadelphia Bike Share Concept Study,” says Dylan Hayden, who’s helping to organize the bike share concept. Hayden says Liberty is hoping to make 2,500-2,700 bicycles available to be shared at a cost of abougt $15 million. He adds that Liberty has the support of the Center City District and certain members of City Council. At this point, his group is waiting for the city’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) to issue an RFP. 

As is usually the case, the cost of setting up operations is one of the biggest challenges Liberty faces. Hayden emphasizes that his team is looking to solicit pledges from local hospitals, universities, insurance companies, and other private sector entities willing to chip in. He does admit that securing financial contributions in the Philadelphia-area can be “like squeezing a turnip.” On this note, MOTU has identified the up-front costs of bike sharing as one of its biggest worries. 

Hayden says his team hopes to implement Liberty Bike Share in two phases, with the first concentrating on Center and University Cities and the second extending the program up to Temple. Liberty has two companies in mind, Alta and B-Cycle, to operate the bike share. Alta operates the bike sharing programs in New York City, D.C., and Boston, while B-Cycle is responsible for bike sharing in Spartanburg, Chicago, Denver, and elsewhere. Hayden envisions charging members an annual fee of anywhere between $75 and $90.

The UPenn team hopes Liberty Bike Share will complement mass transit in Philadelphia. “We’re looking to deal with last-mile issues,” says Hayden, who’s talking about the distance between a transit or rail stop and someone’s final destination. Indeed, the Penn senior envisions a future where someone can (as an example) take a train to Market East Station and share a bike to get to their final destination. Hayden hopes to work with SEPTA to incorporate bike sharing in with their upcoming New Payment Technology.

Locally, only one borough offers bike sharing. That would be Pottstown, a borough with around 22,000 people in Western Montgomery County. Bike Pottstown, Pottstown's bike sharing program, is run by Zagster, which launched its bike sharing consultancy in Philadelphia under the name CityRyde before moving to Cambridge, Mass last year. Bike Pottstown is a free bike share, which has filled the streets of the borough with 15 eye-snatching yellow bicycles. 

Hayden is unequivocal about the benefits of bike sharing. “Bike sharing is a policy Swiss army knife,” he says. By this, he means it ameliorates a host of policy issues, including healthcare, sustainability, and mobility. He also says that the city already has much of the infrastructure in place to support bike sharing, including the 215 miles of bike lanes he cites. Bike sharing would provide Philadelphia an opportunity to catch up to other American cities, large and small.  

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dylan Hayden, Liberty Bike Share

Olive Townhomes will offer a taste of LEED next to the Italian Market

If you’ve savored some French cuisine at Bibou, inhaled some hot chocolate at Rim Café, or purchased a wedge of cheese from DiBruno Brothers, you know that South Philly’s Italian Market is a delicious neighborhood.

How would you like to live next to the Italian Market? In fact, you might be able to find a sustainable townhouse in the Italian Market neighborhood later this year, as CITYSPACE Realty is selling four soon-to-be-built sustainable townhomes.

Rachel Reilly, a listing agent for CITYSPACE, anticipates construction to begin on the Olive Townhomes in four to six weeks. As has been the trend with some new residential construction in Philadelphia, the townhomes will be built using modular construction. “Since these homes are modular instead of stick-built, the first phase of construction begins in a controlled warehouse setting, and then the boxes are delivered and stacked on site,” explains Reilly. She says that the construction period will last for four months, with construction of the final three units hinging on how quickly they go off the market.

One of the most notable features of Olive Townhomes will be its minimal footprint on the environment. Reilly makes it clear that she expects the townhomes to be certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold, which is the second highest LEED certification possible. According to the agent, the development will be the first LEED Gold multi-unit complex in Bella Vista. The environmentally friendly features that are planned include Energy Star appliances, bamboo flooring, low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint, and roofs that can accommodate solar panels. 

Reilly adds that the location itself, on the 800-block of Carpenter St., is sustainable because of its walkability and access to mass transit. “It's steps to a slew of great restaurants (many of the BYOs), the Italian Market, great coffee shops, boutiques, and public transportation,” she exclaims. In addition it’s a manageable walk to and from Passyunk Avenue shops. Nearby mass transit options include the Routes 23, 47, and 47M buses, along with the Broad Street Subway. 

The three biggest townhomes will be 2,690 square feet apiece, each containing 3 bedrooms and 3.5 baths. Each townhome will include four stories, with an outdoor patio, large windows, and the option of adding a fireplace. The fourth townhome will be 2,540 sq. ft., with a basement, deck, and fireplace. The four townhomes will surround a lush outdoor courtyard. Single-car parking will be on-site for two of the residences, while the other two townhomes will have parking at a lot a block away. CITYSPACE’s Rachel Reilly is listing the property along with Sarah Robertson. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Rachel Reilly, CITYSPACE Realty

Rush & Hush: PATCO to experiment with a Quiet Car for South Jersey commuters

Have you ever had to bear with someone on the phone having a loud argument with their boyfriend or that group of teenagers that just won't shut up on your train? If so, you might be intrigued to hear that PATCO, which operates the high-speed rail line between Lindenwold, NJ and Philadelphia, wants to shush the arguments and boisterous conversations. In fact, PATCO will be testing a "quiet car" on all weekday trains starting in March.

John Rink, the new General Manager of PATCO, reports that his agency's "quiet car" program will be modeled after SEPTA's successful QuietRide policy on Regional Rail. On designated cars, this means cell phone use will be forbidden, any conversations should be fleeting and in a low voice, and passengers must listen to music using ear buds or headphones so as no one else will be able to hear. PATCO plans on delineating the rear cars of its weekday trains as "quiet cars," which means you can still yak to your heart's content if you're not in the last car.

One major difference between PATCO and SEPTA Regional Rail is that the South Jersey rail agency doesn't use conductors. This will pose challenges for enforcement in "quiet cars," but Rink is confident the policy can be a success. "Train Operators will make periodic announcements during each trip, Variable Message Signs [VMS] on platform will display messages, and from time-to-time our Transit Unit [police] will ride in the quiet car," avers Rink. However, he adds that self-enforcement among riders will be key. As with SEPTA, it will be important that riders don't quarrel over enforcement.

With about a month left before the three-month trial begins, Rink wants to get the word out about the "quiet car" as much as possible to PATCO riders. "We will Tweet, post on Facebook, discuss in our E-Newsletter, place on our website, [put] signage in the train cars, [and place] signage in our stations," says the general manager. In addition, Rink expects to utilize station supervisors to hand out notices the week before and the first week of the "quiet car" experiment.

Along with the "quiet car" program, PATCO will also unveil a Courtesy Counts campaign. This campaign will urge riders to treat fellow riders with respect by not taking up seats with personal belongings, not standing and blocking the train doors, keeping one's voice down when talking on the phone, and grooving to music with a reasonable volume. PATCO already has a video for Courtesy Counts on its website, which uses a humorous approach to draw attention to serious problems. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: John Rink, PATCO PHOTO: courtesy Delaware River Port Authority
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