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Just what does blight recertification mean for South Kensington?

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission is planning to conduct a blight recertification of the Germantown Avenue corridor between 2nd and Oxford Streets in South Kensington, but not everybody is thrilled about it. One group that is skeptical of the recertification is the Kensington South Neighborhood Advisory Counsel, which composed a “letter of non-support” to the Planning Commission.

The NAC is especially concerned that the blight declaration will enable developers to ignore community input and act heavy-handedly. One of the community group’s greatest fears is that this could lead the way to eminent domain. “The American Street Empowerment Zone in its heyday used blight recertification to enact eminent domain,” mentioned Erika Tapp, the director of the Kensington South NAC.

The Counsel is also rankled that two historically significant buildings were not included in the recertification. One factory is the Pieri Factory, which manufactured lamps from the intersection of Front and Oxford Streets. The other building is the Gretz Brewery at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Oxford Street. Tapp is especially enamored of the latter, calling it a “really cool older building.” Also, the neighborhood group frets about unforeseen consequences for community gardens, which are a source of pride for South Kensington.

Yet, the City Planning Commission counters that blight recertification is necessary to encourage development around the corridor. At last month’s planning commission meeting, planner David Fecteau bemoaned that 43 percent of the properties in the affected area are vacant.

Tapp said that Fecteau has done a good job of discussing the recertification with her group. She said he made it clear that the review process for blight recertification would be much stricter and firmer than previous ones, including the American Street Empowerment Zone.

Despite the efforts of the City Planning Commission to assuage neighborhood concerns, Tapp summed up why so many residents are skeptical about the blight recertification. “It’s a mistrust of the political system,” relayed Tapp.

Unfortunately, people in this community have seen similar situations in the past, and are not happy with how they turned out.

Source: Erika Tapp, South Kensington Neighborhood Advisory Counsel
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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