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As winter approaches, a Philly company makes programming the thermostat easier than ever

Energy-saving systems in large commercial buildings are already commonplace -- albeit expensive to install -- and many single-family homes have power-conserving programmable thermostats. But according to StratIS CEO Felicite Moorman, over 90 percent of homeowners who install those thermostats don’t maximize their savings by actually programming them. 

The East Falls-based StratIS was founded in 2013 as an offshoot of BuLogics, which Moorman also helms. With a focus on multi-family buildings, hotels and campus residences, the energy-saving software company wants to take the intimidation out of programming a greener, more cost-effective usage schedule, and put an easy version of the technology in the hands of owners, managers and their tenants.

“In the last four months, we’ve installed [in] 40,000 apartments," says Moorman; this includes clients in 40 states. The company’s largest single deployment to date is 65,000 wireless devices in 2,700 rooms in Las Vegas’s Wynn Hotel and Casino.

"[It's] an energy efficiency, energy management and energy control app that was specifically created for multi-family and campus communities," she explains. That means a range of wireless devices connected to things like lamps, thermostats, HVAC systems and even door locks that property owners, managers, and residents can control with a simple app.

In the case of individual apartments, renters can use the StratIS technology to customize their at-home power needs. This can be done either on a timed schedule through the app (with residents programming reduced power usage during office hours, for example), or the app can connect to a door lock device which activates a power-down mode synced to the moment a resident steps out the door. You'll never leave a light on again.

Meanwhile, property managers can remotely power up or down any individual unit in the building, as in the case of empty units or an apartment they’re getting ready to show.

Hotel, campus, and multi-family complex owners and managers pay as little as $100 for the installation of a StratIS-enabled thermostat, with a fee of $1 per month per device (this flexible in the case of low-income housing due to the company’s social and environmental mission).

Moorman says the "future-proofed" StratIS system -- meaning the hardware can be easily updated as technology changes or advances -- can save users up to 20 percent on their energy bills. That’s a big selling point since many leases include electricity costs in a flat rental payment.  

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Felicite Moorman, StratIS

Six 'Groundbreaking' finalists announced for DVGBC's annual celebration of green building

As one of 79 regional chapters under the umbrella of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) certainly doesn't mince words when it comes to its mission -- there it is, in 16-point type atop the "Strategic Plan" page of its website: "Green Buildings for All."
Here in the Delaware Valley, the execution of that vision translates to outreach and public policy work intended to transform the community through environmentally responsible building.

DVGBC also hosts an annual awards ceremony designed to recognize green development projects "that are really cutting-edge and transformational," says Janet Milkman, the Council's executive director. "We've always tried to celebrate the thrust in green building practice in our region," she adds, explaining why this year's ceremony is being referred to as the Groundbreaker Awards.
Six finalists have been chosen out of 20 total nominations. The three winners will be announced during a September 18 awards ceremony at Center City's Suzanne Roberts Theater modeled after the Oscars; attendees will enter on a green carpet.
"Honestly, we had 20 wonderful submissions," says Milkman. "They were all terrific, so the jury had a hard time."

Ultimately, the six finalists were chosen because of their uniqueness in the region, and because of their potential to be modeled by future developement projects.  
UPenn's Shoemaker Green, which is managing stormwater with vegetative infrastructure approaches, is one such project. So is North Philadelphia's residential Paseo Verde, a mixed-income transportation-oriented development (TOD) project, and the first in the country to achieve Platinum status under the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) designation.
Other finalists included KidZooU at the Philadelphia Zoo and the Camden Friends Meeting House and Social Hall in Delaware.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Janet Milkman, DVGBC


Country's largest 'passive' project coming to East Falls

Earlier this month, the Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) gave the mixed-use Ridge Flats in East Falls the official go-ahead. Slated for the former Rivage site, a prominent local intersection, the project will be the largest "passive" development in the country.
Passive projects -- structures built to an exacting zero-net energy-efficiency standard -- aren’t a new concept in Philly; neighborhoods such as Bella Vista and Northern Liberties have seen new construction homes built under the guidelines throughout the past year. The scale of Ridge Flats is what sets it apart. Once complete, the five-story structure will contain 146 apartments, 1000 feet of commercial space and 120 above-grade parking spaces. The building will also feature green roofs and a rain garden.
"It's a model project for the country," says Gina Snyder, president of the East Falls Development Corporation (EFDC). "It will bring more people, retail and add more excitement to the neighborhood. It's the project we've been looking for on Ridge Avenue."
The site has been under the control of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority since the late '90s -- it wasn't until a year-and-a-half ago that EFDC found what they were looking for; local green developer Onion Flats made the winning pitch.
Since then, EFDC has been working with Onion Flats to make sure the project will be a win-win. They have fully supported the developer during the ZBA variance process.
Now that the ZBA has officially signed off, construction should begin this winter.

Source:  Gina Synder, East Falls Development Corporation
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Charred nursing home in Roxborough to be replaced by new twin home cul-de-sac development

While much has been going on with Roxborough's commercial corridor and historic preservation near the Manayunk Wall, there is also new residential development knocking on the Northwest Philly neighborhood's door. Kingsley Court is proposed for the site of the abandoned and decrepit Ivy Ridge nursing home at Ridge Ave. near Walnut Ln. Kingsley is designed to be a twin home development with a cul-de-sac street to be built. 

Kingsley Court's developer, Stephen Goldner, says the both of the twins will have side and rear yards, four bedrooms, 2.5 baths, and 2,200-2,500 sq. ft. Each house will also have a formal living and dining room, and a country kitchen. The developer anticipates most of the homes will be priced in the low-$300,000 range, while some of the higher-end twins at the cul-de-sac might be closer to $350,000. Each home should come with a tax abatement. 

Not only are these new houses, they will mark a new era for the surrounding neighborhood. The Ivy Ridge Personal Care nursing home was last open in 2008. Since then, "the facility had been languishing in the neighborhood," says Goldner. He adds that it has been victimized by fire and break-ins. In addition, Kingsley Court will add a new street to Roxborough. While City Planning Commission staff recommended a through street to not interrupt the city's grid system, there was very little support for that. Ultimately, the City Planning Commission voted to recommend Goldner's cul-de-sac.

Goldner boasts of strong support for Kingsley in the neighborhood, including from the Wissahickon Neighbors Civic Association (WNCA), local Councilman Curtis Jones, and many of the near neighbors. There were grave concerns in the neighborhood about drivers using a new through-street to get to Ridge Ave. by bypassing Walnut Lane, which would have been creating "a dreadful hazard," says Goldner.

While the City Planning Commission recommended approval for Kingsley Court, Goldner still has a number of steps to take before he can start construction. First of all, the developer doesn't currently own the land, although he says he has "it under agreement." In addition to transferring the land into his name, he still has to go in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA). He assumes he'll have little trouble with the ZBA, as he expects letters of support from WNCA and other community interests. He hopes to begin construction and marketing soon after ZBA approval.

Source: Stephen Mark Goldner   
Writer: Andy Sharpe

BICYCLE COALITION: Is Kelly Drive trail path ready for four-wheel surreys?

Editor's note: This is presented as a content partnership with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

More bikes will be available for rent in Center City
thanks to a new partnership between Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and Wheel Fun, a national franchise that specializes in hourly rentals.
Wheel Fun's location in JFK Plaza (Love Park) will open in time for Bike to Work Day (May 18) and be open on weekends until Memorial Day from 9 a.m.-dusk and thereafter daily from 9 a.m.-dusk through the fall.
Beyond bikes and tandems, Wheel Fun also rents surreys, or quadracycles -- the kind of four-wheel rides you might see on the boardwalk down the shore -- and double recumbents, . Surreys are restricted to an out-and-back route from Italian Fountain Circle to the Girard Ave. Bridge, but there are definite questions on whether they can co-exist with other users of the narrow, multi-use trail.
According to the Bicycle Coalition: "With or without surreys, conflicts on the Kelly Drive path are a compelling enough argument for relieving trail congestion by improving the bridge link to the Martin Luther King Drive trail."
Bike PHL Challenge rolls out today 
Starting May 1, Philadelphia has the chance to show the rest of the country how much it gets around by bike. 
Last summer, Philadelphia logged 150,000 miles riding to and from work. It's easy for you and your friends to get involved and get the chance to win new bicycles. 
Registration is open here. Log your miles through Endomondo's website or any free smartphone app. FAQs are here.
The Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities is offering 10 in-street bike corrals to interested city businesses. The corrals, introduced by the Bicycle Coalition to the city last September, turns one car parking spot into 14 bicycle parking spots.
Application process is open and runs until May 30.
Safe Routes Philly is offering a contest to Philadelphia students in grades 2-6 to create a poster that answers the question: Why do I ride a bike? 
Winners will be chosen to participate in Philadelphia Bike to Work day on May 18 with Mayor Nutter.
This summer, the Philadelphia Streets Department will remove abandoned bikes from Center City and surrounding areas, and the City has opened the 311 call center to collect relevant info. 
Abandoned bikes have missing or damaged parts, are in unusable condition and have been locked at the same location for more than a month.

THE BICYCLE COALITION OF GREATER PHILADELPHIA has been making the region a better place to ride a bike through advocacy, education, and outreach since 1972. The nonprofit, membership organization's programs include Bike Philly, the Bicycle Ambassadors, Safe Routes Philly, the Complete the Schuylkill River Trail campaign, and Neighborhood Bike Works (now an independent organization). Follow the Bicycle Coalition on FacebookTwitter, and on their blog.

Send feedback here.

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

Lyceum Ave. porches and facades in Roxborough to get facelift thanks to Preservation Alliance grant

When you think of neighborhoods steeped in history, you probably think of Old City, Society Hill, and Germantown. Yet, the Roxborough neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia has plenty of historic homes in its own right, and will now be given a chance to showcase Victorian-era properties on Lyceum Ave., a few blocks up from the infamous Manayunk Wall, between Ridge Ave. and Pechin St. This is thanks to a grant from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia to rehabilitate the porches and facades of homes on the two-block stretch.

The Roxborough Development Corporation (RDC) is not wasting any time in taking advantage of the $30,000 grant, says James Calamia, its operations manager. "This summer is a target to begin construction, maybe even this spring," he says. The RDC held a forum on the grant this past Wednesday, where they handed out applications for interested Victorian homeowners to enlist. They also put on the first of multiple workshops on "historic porches and wood repairs," adds Calamia. There was an excellent turnout for both the forum and the workshop.

This is just the latest exciting news for Roxborough, which is trying to enhance its Ridge Ave. commercial corridor through walkability improvements and the opening of new businesses. In order to draw more people to live and shop in the area, RDC is trying to accentuate the neighborhood’s rich, albeit often untold, history. "The Roxborough Development Corporation believes in protecting the historical assets and heritage of the Roxborough neighborhood," says Calamia. 

In the past, Roxborough Township was known as a peaceful alternative to the frenetic bustle of Center City, buffered from the downtown by the Wissahickon Creek and the Schuylkill River. Many of the affected homes on the 400-block of Lyceum Ave. were built in the late-1800s to maintain the sense of closely-woven community that made Roxborough such an appealing place.   

Lyceum Ave. home- and business-owners are receiving the grants on behalf of the Preservation Alliance’s Vital Neighborhoods Initiative (VNI). The VNI targets moderate-income sections of the city that could use some additional preservation work. Roxborough and the Penn Knox, Tulpehocken, and Pomona Cherokee sections of Germantown are the only neighborhoods in Northwest Philly eligible for the grants. Recipients of the last round of grants included the Fairmount CDC, the Walnut Hill Community Association, and the Yorktown CDC.

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: James Calamia, Roxborough CDC

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   

A 10-pin workout: Combination Sweat gym-BYOB bowling alley coming to East Falls

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to knock down pins and lose pounds at the same time? If so, you might want to head over to East Falls starting next month. This is when Sweat Fitness will open their first fitness center and BYOB bowling alley in One Falls Center on Henry Ave. This will soon be Philadelphia’s first combination gym and bowling alley and Sweat Fitness’ 10th location in the city and its suburbs. It will be called Sweat Fitness and Frames.

Sweat Fitness hopes to intertwine bowling and working out, according to Scott Caplan, the owner of the gym. To do this, Caplan plans to allow members who use any Sweat gym to bowl for free during off-peak hours, which fall on weekdays in the bowling sphere. The facility will feature 10 bowling lanes with room for private parties. Exercisers can unwind not just from a round of bowling, but also with a drink. Indeed, unlike many bowling alleys, Sweat Fitness and Frames will be BYOB.

While bowling is a unique bedfellow to fitness, Caplan previously owned the Stripes bowling alley at 40th and Locust Sts. in West Philly. Stripes closed in April 2010, but Caplan’s affinity for bowling did not go away. Caplan explains that bowling helps “solidify” relationships, which is important because “fitness is a very social business.” 

Caplan hopes that Fitness and Frames will become an integral part of the East Falls community. For one thing, Sweat will take advantage of a free shuttle that carries Philadelphia University students between their school and housing around One Falls Center. He’s also encountered strong support for the gym alley among the East Falls Development Corporation (EFDC) and other community groups. “So far they’ve been very happy to have us,” says Caplan, who adds that Sweat has become a “focal point” in other communities. 

If Sweat Fitness and Frames proves successful, the gym may open additional bowling fitness centers in the future. Caplan divulges that Sweat is looking to open a few more fitness facilities in the Delaware Valley in 2013, although no word yet if they’ll offer bowling.  

If you’re interested in joining Sweat’s upcoming East Falls location, Caplan says there are still around a hundred pre-sale membership slots available. While the owner can’t give an exact date as to when Sweat Fitness and Frames will open, he says it will likely be in late-April. This means only a month until you can enjoy a vigorous work-out, a round of bowling, and a frosty drink in one location.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Scott Caplan, Sweat Fitness  

Illustration Courtesy of Sweat Fitness

Philadelphia, state both look to produce 'rational process' for city's 40,000 parcels of vacant land

While you wouldn’t know it from looking at Center or University Cities, Philadelphia has an enormous amount of vacant land scarring the cityscape -- some 40,000 parcels, to be exact.  The scourge of vacant land twists its way through South and Southwest Philly, flexes into West Philly, rolls into North Philly, and extends into Northeast and Northwest Philly. Given the citywide nature of the vacancy problem and its mounting costs, the Nutter administration, City Council, and the state House and Senate all seem eager to address it. In fact, Mayor Nutter appears ready to release a new plan on vacant land, while the state Senate may soon begin debate on a bill to set up land banks to deal with vacant land.

Philadelphia’s managing director is just about done with the city’s new vacant land plan, according to Rick Sauer, the executive director of the Philadelphia Association of CDCs (PACDC). The city’s upcoming proposal only deals with city-owned land (only about 25 percent of all vacant parcels), and thus does not push for a land bank for privately held vacant land. Advocates see the Nutter administration’s plan as a step in the right direction, even if it might not go as far as they would like. “The administration is trying to create a rational process for vacant land,” says Karen Black, the principal at May 8 Consulting, a firm that has worked with PACDC on vacant land issues.

The Nutter administration’s ideas come on the heels of a land bank bill written by Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez and co-sponsored by Councilman Bill Green last month. Black confirms that this bill aims to consolidate ownership of vacant land into one land bank, which means it goes substantially further than the bill being drafted by the mayor’s office. She adds that City Council hearings on Sanchez and Green’s bill might kick off as soon as May.  

There is also support for dealing with vacant land at the state level, with legislation being proposed that is similar to the land bank bill in City Council. Black informs us that the state House passed a land bank bill by Philadelphia Rep. John Taylor in February. She enthusiastically points out that this bill would enable private properties to be sold directly into a land bank, without the city having to change its charter.

Meanwhile, on the state Senate side, there is also some hearty support for land bank legislation. Senator David Argall, a Republican who represents parts of Berks, Lehigh, and other counties north and west of the Philly suburbs, has introduced a bill in the Senate designed to be a companion to the bill that passed the House. Black reassures that the passage of the House bill might mean action in the Senate is imminent. 

Black and Sauer are unequivocal about the neighborhood blight caused by vacant land. “Vacant properties have a significant negative impact on property values,” laments Sauer, who conducted a study with the city Re-Development Authority (PRA) on vacant land in late 2010. Sauer elaborates that the study found a 6 to 20% loss in property values caused by the presence of nearby vacant land. He also lambastes vacant properties as havens for drug activity, arson, and illicit dumping, which entail significant quality-of-life problems. PACDC’s study found that vacant land cost the city $20 million each year in maintenance costs.  

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Karen Black, May 8 Consulting and Rick Sauer, PACDC    

Roxborough emerging from Northwest's shadows with new businesses, preservation and improvements

For decades, Manayunk and Chestnut Hill have dominated Northwest Philly’s business development scene with their vibrant commercial corridors. However, a new player is emerging as a destination for shoppers and diners: Roxborough, and the burgeoning Ridge Ave. corridor, is seeing an influx of new businesses, streetscape improvements, and historic preservation in its surrounding neighborhood.

The Roxborough Development Corporation (RDC) has played a vital role in the resurgence of Ridge Ave. James Calamia, the operations manager at the RDC, is excited about the new businesses that are slated to open this year. Most notably, the popular beer distributor and gourmet deli The Foodery just purchased the RDC’s erstwhile office on the avenue west of Green Lane. Calamia is proud to report that this will be The Foodery’s largest location yet. He says the current drawings, which are always subject to change, have fridges filled with beer wrapping around the entire store and plentiful seating.

While The Foodery won’t open until May at the earliest, a number of new businesses have opened in the past three months or will be opening shortly. Calamia says that Blackbird House Antiques at Ridge and Shawmont, Giovanni’s Child Care at Ridge and Leverington, and TD Bank at Ridge and Hermit have all opened in the past three months. Another new business, Kitch-N Collectibles, is planning on opening very shortly across from RDC’s old office. Kitch-N Collectibles is actually re-locating to Roxborough from Manayunk.

While business development is a massive part of the equation in Roxborough, the RDC points out that the neighborhood is also benefitting from historic preservation efforts. Calamia relays that the community was just awarded a $30,000 grant from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia to rehabilitate “gothic houses” on Lyceum Ave. and Green Ln, only a block away from the Ridge corridor. This is a means to “help build and grow Roxborough’s unique persona,” says Calamia.

Roxborough is also benefiting from a $2.2 million grant from the city to make streetscape enhancements along Ridge Ave. According to Calamia, this will result in smoother sidewalks, better lighting, and new planters. He believes these improvements will lead to a “new foundation for Roxborough and the whole area.” “It will make the area more walkable and improve aesthetics,” Calamia adds. Depending on weather conditions, he anticipates the streetscape enhancements will be finished during the summer.

The RDC alludes to more exciting development along Ridge Ave. in the years to come. Calamia says Planet Fitness has expressed interest in the shuttered Golden Chrysler dealership, which would be the discount gym’s first location in Northwest Philadelphia. He also says the RDC might be looking to add a park around the intersection of Ridge and Leverington Aves. Finally, the operations director intimates that the former bank at Ridge and Green Ln. might soon be re-developed. He says someone just purchased the historic building, which is known for the sculpted owls on its roof. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: James Calamia, Roxborough Development Corporation

Onion Flats hopes to connect the Schuylkill Trail with East Falls through mixed-use development

Onion Flats is looking to capitalize on East Falls' proximity to the Schuylkill River Trail and Fairmount Park by redeveloping the former Rivage catering hall between Kelly Dr. and Ridge Ave. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority just gave Onion Flats the go-ahead to design a sustainable residential and retail complex called The Ridge. Given the property's accessibility and visibility by bike, bus, and car, there's considerable buzz surrounding this redevelopment in East Falls.

The Norris Square-based developer proposes a 5-story 128,440 sq. ft. development for The Ridge. According to Tim McDonald, president of Onion Flats, this will consist of 126 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 8,700 sq. ft. of retail space. McDonald gives some hints as to what kind of retail will be included by saying "ours will be small-scale retail, cafe, restaurant, etc." He adds that The Ridge has the potential to be a retail "gateway" into East Falls, and a complement to existing businesses on Ridge Ave.

Like their previous development in Fishtown and Northern Liberties, including Rag Flats, Jack Hammer, and Thin Flats, sustainability is going to be a distinguishing feature of The Ridge. McDonald hopes the East Falls development will "become Philadelphia's first Passive House Certified and Net-Zero-Energy mixed-use residential/retail community as well as the country's largest." In simpler language, this means all energy needed for water, HVAC, and lighting will be produced locally using solar energy. Onion Flats also aims to emit net zero carbon dioxide at The Ridge.

As it is proposed, The Ridge will also live and die off of a sense of community. In this vein, McDonald doesn't want to see any in-door hallways, but instead out-door passageways that facilitate interaction between neighbors. Also, the second level of The Ridge is modeled to include a community garden space, which will be visible on upper floors through public viewing spaces. For residents, this community garden will act as a doormat, as the second floor is proposed as the main residential entrance. 

The redevelopment of the Rivage by Onion Flats appears to have the initial blessing of East Falls community groups. Unlike previous controversial proposals involving the police department's Special Victims Unit and a high school for troubled youth, neighborhood groups seem to see The Ridge as a development meant to foster community and put an exclamation point on East Falls' propinquity to Fairmount Park. This is not to say that every element of McDonald's plan will meet with community approval, but in general local residents are excited about the redevelopment. 

The Redevelopment Authority's decision to choose Onion Flats for the Rivage property is just the start of an extended process that includes "community meetings, building permits, closing on financing," and other aspects, says McDonald. Should neighborhood groups offer an endorsement, McDonald expects groundbreaking to commence in early 2013. He expects to offer a final design in six months, including all the sustainability and community elements that have so far been proposed. 

Source: Tim McDonald, Onion Flats
Writer: Andy Sharpe

SEPTA's bus fleet to become more eco-friendly thanks to two grants

Despite a budget shortfall, SEPTA will be able to resume purchasing hybrid diesel-electric buses thanks to two grants from the US Department of Transportation. For the first time ever, SEPTA will purchase hybrid 60-foot accordion buses, which are the longest buses in the system. SEPTA’s current assortment of hybrid buses is about 30 percent more fuel efficient than equivalent clean diesel buses.

SEPTA is the beneficiary of $15 million in federal funds to cover the difference in cost between hybrid and clean diesel 60-foot buses. Luther Diggs, who’s in charge of operations at SEPTA, says it will stretch out the acquisition of these longer buses over four years, with the first year’s purchase entirely hybrid. Over the four years, SEPTA will be replacing 155 longer buses, with an option for 65 more. The percent of these that are hybrid will depend on how much more grant money becomes available. 

This opens the possibility that additional bus routes might see these longer buses. "We have some additional need for 60-foot buses," confirms Diggs. He suggests that the Route 47 bus, which was the subject of the failed skip-stop pilot and more successful attempts to speed it up, might end up seeing longer buses. Also, he hints that the extremely well-traveled Route 17 bus, which runs up and down 19th and 20th Sts. in South Philadelphia and across Center City, might be another new candidate for the 60-footers.

Shortly after the $15 million grant was announced, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced another grant of $5 million to pay for additional hybrid 40-foot buses, the most prevalent of SEPTA's fleet. This is welcome news for many local environmentalists, who earlier this year were dismayed to hear that funding difficulties meant SEPTA would cease acquiring standard-size hybrid buses. According to Diggs, SEPTA will resume purchasing these hybrid buses in 2013, and only purchase hybrid 40-foot buses in 2014. 

Diggs is convinced that hybrid buses represent the most financially sensible way for SEPTA to green its bus fleet. Diggs says SEPTA did examine running buses using compressed natural gas (CNG) in the mid-1990s. However, hybrid buses were ruled more effective than their CNG counterparts because of "infrastructure, residential neighborhoods, and cost," says Diggs. While some transit agencies in California and Texas use CNG, there are legitimate concerns about the cost of putting in CNG infrastructure and the health risks associated with natural gas.  

Source: Luther Diggs, SEPTA
Writer: Andy Sharpe 

Still hope for City Council passage of zoning code re-write by year's end

Philadelphia’s Zoning Code Commission unveiled a new timeline that they hope will lead to a modernized zoning code during a six-hour public hearing in front of City Council. The public certainly got to weigh in, as 40 different people signed up to testify, split into thirteen panels of three or more people at a time.

The barrage of public comment not withstanding, the Zoning Code Commission (ZCC) announced its strong desire to pass a new zoning code in City Council by the end of the year. Perhaps no one is more eager to see a new zoning code before the year’s end than Eva Gladstein, the Executive Director of the ZCC. Gladstein is cautiously optimistic about the odds of success. "A number of members of City Council expressed their interest in passing a new zoning code before the end of the year, and we believe that while the timeline is tight, it is achievable," says Gladstein.

From the look and sound of the hearing, City Council members and public testifiers -- including community group leaders, developers, and environmentalists -- support most parts of the zoning code update. However, there are a few sticking points among City Council and the public that might impede the ZCC deadline.

Councilman Bill Green, who many believe may run for mayor some time in the next decade, has raised many of the questions and concerns on City Council. He clarified his concerns by releasing a set of 10 amendments that he feels are necessary for the proposed zoning code re-write. At the hearing, Green complained that his office had not received a revisable copy of the zoning code proposal. Both Gladstein and Alan Greenberger, Acting Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and a member of the ZCC, claimed they did send the document. 

One of Green’s concerns is that the proposed zoning code does not adequately restrict potentially harmful industry from going into residential neighborhoods. Some of the community groups present seemed to agree with this, as well as other aspects of Green’s amendments. Another complaint, voiced by the East Falls Community Council, was that there was insufficient, albeit improved, participation from community groups in the re-write.

With this in mind, the politicians and the public seemed ready to proceed with an improved zoning code. Speaker after speaker seemed to delight in commending the ZCC for its hard work in drafting sorely needed zoning reform. Even hesitant City Council members, like Green and Brian O’Neill, acknowledged that the zoning code needed to be modernized. Thus, it's not if, but when the zoning code reform will pass. Many hope it will be by year’s end, but that’s not a guarantee.

Source: Eva Gladstein, Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission
Writer: Andy Sharpe

SEPTA's Pass Perks connecting riders with businesses, expanding in October

Next time you swipe your SEPTA Trans- or Trailpass, you might be getting more than just a ride. In fact, SEPTA has a program called Pass Perks, where you can use your SEPTA pass to get discounts and freebies from Philadelphia-area stores, restaurants, and other establishments.

SEPTA's Director of Marketing, Richard DiLullo, is proud of the work his office has done to make Pass Perks successful. "It's a win-win for everybody," said DiLullo. DiLullo was especially eager to point out how many businesses found out about and decided to join Pass Perks on their own, as SEPTA has done very "little solicitation to businesses." DiLullo said SEPTA will be expanding its Pass Perks promotion come October.

Businesses that participate in SEPTA Pass Perks seem proud to do so. "Connecting SEPTA riders with neighborhood businesses helps to revitalize and stabilize our commercial corridors," said Ken Weinstein, owner of Mt. Airy's Trolley Car Diner and Deli and Chair of the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District. "I would encourage my fellow small business owners to participate."

Indeed, it looks like many businesses have opted to enroll in Pass Perks, as the program's website shows 159 businesses. These businesses are quite varied, including restaurants, shops, museums, and hotels, and can be found all over Southeastern Pennsylvania.

SEPTA's DiLullo pointed out just how valuable some of the perks can be. Upon searching the Pass Perks website, it didn't take him long to find a $250 mortgage incentive reimbursement being offered as a perk. Another quirky bargain pass perk is $60 savings for a first visit at Quest Chiropractic. DiLullo made sure to say that SEPTA is always willing to explore "co-promotional opportunities," and added that his agency has a part-time employee who contacts local chambers of commerce.

Both Trolley Car Diner and SEPTA reiterated the importance of linking businesses with alternative modes of transportation. "The connection between business and sustainable transportation should be stronger than it is," said Trolley Car's Weinstein. "At Trolley Car Diner, our customers and staff rely on SEPTA to get to the restaurants on a daily basis."

Source: Richard DiLullo, SEPTA Pass Perks
Writer: Andy Sharpe

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