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New grant gives the Manayunk Bridge Trail its finishing touch

Thanks to $600,000 from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), the recently refreshed Manayunk Bridge Trail will get its finishing touch. 
A couple of weeks ago, Flying Kite took a look at the DVRPC Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) dollars that will go into the corner of Chelten and Greene Avenues in Germantown, a new gateway into Vernon Park. Philly Parks & Recreation is another TAP grant recipient for improvements to the Manayunk Bridge Trail, which opened to foot and bike traffic last October. They applied for the grant in January of this year, hoping for dollars that would allow the installation of lighting and other commuter-friendly amenities. 
"It's a transportation amenity and recreation as well," explains Parks & Rec Preservation and Capital Projects Manager Rob Armstrong. "Lighting is the number one priority. That way we can open the bridge for more hours than it's open right now."
Because of the need to preserve the structure's historic look -- and the many agencies involved in a trail amenity -- Armstrong can't predict exactly when the necessary permits will be in place for construction. But the dollars do have a timeline stipulating the the work must be completed by next year.

According to DVRPC Executive Director Barry Seymour, the eleven projects funded through TAP will "enable communities to build multi-use trails, safe routes to school and pedestrian pathways, and bike lanes and bikeway projects, providing transportation for a wide variety of users throughout our region."

"I'm really pleased that [the bridge] has been so popular since it opened last fall," adds Armstrong. He uses the trail himself, and appreciates the many people who cross it for the views, to connect to other trails, or on their commute. "It links the city the suburbs, and vice versa. I'm just glad we got the funding so we can do this project and get it lit, so that more people can use it."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rob Armstrong, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Manayunk's Lower Venice Island Park and Performance Center gears up for grand opening

Way back in April 2011, Flying Kite brought you the story of Manayunk's Venice Island -- which sits between the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill River -- and its nearly ruined Venice Island Recreation Center.

At the time, the rec center was preparing to undergo a $45 million rehab that would include athletic fields, a park, a small spray pool, a multi-use building and a 250-seat performing arts center. The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) helped arrange the capital funds as a compromise after announcing that an EPA-mandated sewage overflow tank was being constructed in the area.
Some three years later -- and eight years after the project's planning and preparation stage first kicked off -- Manayunk's community development organizations are finally ready to announce the upcoming grand opening of what has been dubbed the Lower Venice Island Park and Performance Center.
"What's really interesting about the site is that it's in the center of a lot of options for outdoor recreation," says Kay Sykora of Destination Schuylkill River, adding that in conjunction with the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the park and performance center (which will probably happen sometime in September), an outdoor recreation event called Play Manayunk will be hosted for the general public.
The "adventure for city dwellers" organization known as Discover Outdoors will be on hand during Play Manayunk, and opportunities for both kayaking and dragon boating should be on offer, according to Sykora, who also hopes to make bicycles available for those who'd like to ride on the Schuylkill River Trail. A geocaching event is also being scheduled, along with an attempt at earning a Guinness World Records entry, possibly by way of a sit-up competition.
A concrete date for both Play Manayunk and the Venice Island ribbon cutting ceremony should be available come mid-summer; stay tuned to Flying Kite for more details.     

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Kay Sykora, Destination Schuylkill River


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

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

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   

BICYCLE COALITION: Volunteer training, bridges that open and close, and a new look

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

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia gets a new look this week, with an updated (and awfully sharp, in our opinion) logo as part of its 40th anniversary. It has never been easier to be a part of the Bicycle Coalition's efforts. The organization is holding an outreach training on Wednesday (April 4) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at its office at 1500 Walnut St. (Suite 305) in Philadelphia. The Bicycle Coalition is looking for volunteers willing to help man tables at events this summer, like the Kensington Sculpture Derby, and conduct street outreach. RSVP here ([email protected]) or call 215-399-1598 (x707).
Walnut Lane Bridge Rehab Q&A
The mighty Walnut Lane Bridge stands tall over the Wissahickon, but will soon undergo rehab. PennDOT is hosting a public meeting to answer questions, collect comments and hear concerns that will help inform the project. The Q&A session is set for Thursday (April 5) from 5-7:30 p.m. at Kendrick Recreation Center (5822 Ridge Ave., Philadelphia).
Speaking of Bridges
The Ben Franklin Bridge's South Walkway reopened on Monday to the public. Walkway hours are 6 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, weather permitting. The north walkway will now be closed to the public.
Philly Public Art Bike Tour
If you're interested in the guided Public Art Bike Tours in Fairmount Park on April 14 and 29, you're not alone. The more challenging, 10-mile rides are all booked, but you can email here ([email protected]) to be added to the wait list. Sufficient demand may lead to another day of tours in May.
There is still availability for a family-friendly, 4-mile loop slated for April 29 from 1:30-4:30 p.m. All tours begin at the Iroquois Sculpture at 24th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. and end at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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 Facebook, Twitter, and on their blog.

Send feedback here.

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

New Manayunk coworking space for woodworkers is first of its kind in Philadelphia

The Delaware Valley's first coworking space for woodworkers opened earlier this month, and is already proving quite popular. Philadelphia Woodworks is a membership-based co-working arena and educational facility across from the Ivy Ridge train station on Umbria St. in Manayunk. According to Emily Duncan, the business manager at Woodworks, the facility already boasts twenty members, sixteen of which are certified in woodworking. Along with coworking, Duncan says classes are expected to begin in a few weeks.

Philadelphia Woodworks emphasizes that anyone can become a member, as long as they don't have an inordinate fear of splinters. The center is indeed welcoming to professionals and novices alike. "You can do it and we can help you," coaxes Duncan. This is one reason why the workshop will hold classes. Duncan continues by saying members and other people interested in woodworking can even suggest classes. Michael Vogel, who's the founder and president of Woodworks, also emphasizes that classes are run with their students' schedules in mind.  

The woodworker's paradise is concentrating on partnering with local businesses that work with wood. For example, Duncan gives a shout-out to Provenance Architectural Salvage in Northern Liberties, who she says will stock re-used materials. Vogel also points out that some classes will be affiliated with other relevant organizations, including the Center for Art in Wood and the Wharton-Esherick Museum in Valley Forge. The Independence Seaport Museum has even expressed interest in helping with education at Philadelphia Woodworks.

This "gym for woodworking," as Vogel puts it, has all of the latest woodworking tools throughout the 6,600-square foot facility. 4,500 of which are devoted to shop space, which includes professional industrial grade power and hand tools; milling machines that can smooth wood; sanding, shaping, and edging stations; dust collection; and air filters. In addition, the space comes equipped with Golden Boy, the shop manager's adorable pug, who can be found strutting around the shop. Finally, Duncan adds that there will be plentiful locker and cubby space for tool storage.

Vogel and Duncan both stress that the woodworking space is truly unique for Southeastern Pennsylvania. Duncan says the closest place of its kind is all the way down in Rockville, Md. The next closest is a long ride north in Connecticut. Because of this, Vogel chose the location because of its convenience to the entire region. "You can get from Cherry Hill to West Chester in a half hour [depending on traffic] because of our proximity to 76," he mentions. As Duncan points out, not only is it easily accessible by car, but it's also in propinquity to the Schuylkill River Bike Trail and the train.

To complement the shop, Philadelphia Woodworks also features a member's lounge, with a kitchen, TVs, and a "clubhouse atmosphere," says Duncan. There is also a lumberyard and sheetwood store on site. If you're interested in becoming a member, you'll want to act fast as space is filling up. There's currently no cap on the amount of members that can be accommodated, but Duncan and Vogel agree they'll eventually have to find one. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Michael Vogel, Emily Duncan, and Golden Boy the pug, Philadelphia Woodworks

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 

Rittenhouse-area parking spot sees coffee instead of cars for Park(ing) Day Philadelphia

SMP Architects helped transform a parking spot on the 1600 block of Walnut St into a coffee garden, just one of over 30 parking spots in Philadelphia transformed into parks for the fourth annual Park(ing) Day. Indeed, the aroma of coffee penetrated the air around 16th and Walnut, all to generate awareness of the perceived negative impact of cars on a city.

SMP certainly demonstrated its commitment to Park(ing) Day, as they had their display percolating from 8:30 a.m. until at least 3:30 p.m., says architect Scott Ritchie. To be sure, the coffee theme was a unique one on this day. “Ground is essential to a city, so we collected coffee grounds from local shops,” said Ritchie, who was eager to explain his firm’s eclectic choice. All told, the spot contained scores of cups filled with coffee grounds from area coffee shops.

Ritchie explained that his firm pounced at the chance to participate in Park(ing) Day because of its history of sustainable design. “We want to be a part of the dialogue that makes the city greener,” says Ritchie. When asked about the primary benefits of the day, the architect mentioned discussion about pedestrian conditions, as well as the effect of autos on a city.

By far, most of the one-day parks were located in Center City, although University City, Mount Airy, Manayunk, and North Philadelphia all had participating spots. Organizations that came out for the day included city and regional planning agencies, other city government bodies, architecture and design firms, alternative transportation advocacy groups, and community development corporations.

Park(ing) Day began in San Francisco back in 2005, the brainchild of an art and design firm called Rebar. It has blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon, with events in 183 cities spanning six continents. In the U.S., cities that saw parks temporarily sprout up included Memphis, New Orleans, Raleigh, and Salt Lake City.

Of course, there was no tally of how many angry drivers inched by the newly formed parks. At the 1600 Walnut St. park, Ritchie saw a few miffed motorists. However, putting it in perspective, Ritchie says it was a negligible impact for one day -- a day set aside for those not driving in downtown areas. 

Source: Scott Ritchie, SMP Architects
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

New ordinance increases transparency in the city's process of transferring public park land

When Microsoft's $63 million School of the Future opened in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park in September 2006, expectations among area parents--some of whom nearly battled in order to secure a spot for their children--couldn't have possibly been higher. But by the time that first class of students was preparing to graduate, attitudes surrounding the school--which didn't require textbooks, and where many of the core subjects required for university admission weren't offered--had shifted considerably.

Today, many of the school's educational kinks have been duly worked out. But if such a project was proposed within the city today--that is, if a public development project was proposed to take place within Philadelphia's public park land--the eventual outcome would almost certainly be different. That's because on April 15, Mayor Michael Nutter signed an ordinance to amend the approval process that takes place when the city's public park land is transferred to some sort of non-park use, as was the case with the Microsoft high school.

"It's an effort that's really been spearheaded by the Parks and Recreation Commission," explains Patrick Morgan, who works underneath Commissioner Mike DiBerardinis. "What it does," he says, "is it establishes a process that's predictable and transparent for all the parties: for City Council, for citizens, and for the (Parks and Recreation) Commission."

And while there aren't currently any plans in place to change usage of city parkland, this new ordinance, which is set to take effect with the change of the fiscal year (July 1), will set in motion that new process of transparency.

"Right now, all (city) parkland is being used for its intended purpose," says Morgan. "But if someone proposes changing the use for whatever reason, then this process kicks in."

Source: Patrick Morgan, Department of Parks and Recreation
Writer: Dan Eldridge

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