DRWC unveils Penn Street Trail renderings, and will soon hire designer for Spring Garden Connector
Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) planners unveiled renderings of the Penn Street portion of the Central Delaware Waterfront Trail. This section of the trail will connect a greenway on Spring Garden Street to the Central Delaware trail. It will run north from Spring Garden on Delaware Avenue, turn onto Penn Street and into the SugarHouse Casino parking lot. SugarHouse has agreed to build the section of the trail through its lot, which will hook on to the existing trail the casino has built on the waterfront.
Key design elements include trail-side rain gardens, which are being designed with help from the city water department, and a new kind of solar street lights. Project Manager Lizzie Woods said these don’t have the flat plates extending out to collect the sun’s energy. Instead, the wrapping of the pole is the solar collector.
Waterfront stakeholders talk about ways to entice developers to provide access and build the proposed trail
Owners of property along the Central Delaware waterfront would be encouraged, but not forced, to allow public access to the river if current language under consideration for a zoning overlay is adopted by City Council. First District City Councilman Mark Squilla has held meetings on the Central Delaware Waterfront Overlay with city planners and other key waterfront stakeholders: Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, Central Delaware Advocacy Group, and the Development Workshop Inc.
“I think it’s really been helpful to have opposite sides at the table, discussing reasonings for their beliefs,” Squilla said. “It seems like all groups are finally realizing that this is going to happen, and they are really to compromise, and know that we are putting together such a great benefit to the Central Delaware and the growth of the city.”
The goal is to design the overlay so that, along with base zoning, it guides future development according to the principles of the Central Delaware Master Plan. Key master plan goals include: Mixed-use, mostly neighborhood-scale development with active ground-floor uses; public access to the waterfront and the creation of a multi-purpose trail, and the extension of the street grid to the river. The Development Workshop has long argued that requiring private developers and landowners to allow the trail on their property amounted to a public taking.
If the final legislation doesn’t change from current discussions, landowners could chose from a menu of ways to allow public access, including granting access while retaining control of the section of their property where the trail passes or selling that section of the property to the city. Both the Workshop and CDAG have for years said a huge stumbling block to access is the liability question – who would be responsible if someone using the proposed riverfront trail got hurt? Two possibilities were brought up at the last CDAG meeting, CDAG representative Joe Schiavo said. Under one, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation – which in addition to developing the master plan manages city-owned waterfront property – would add each new section of trail to its property. Under another scenario, liability issues would be handled through Parks and Recreation, along with those at other city parkland.
DRWC Vice President for Operations Joe Forkin said he’s anticipating additional trail will be added to DRWC’s insurance policies. Staff has begun a study to determine not only insurance cost, but maintenance cost, for opening additional land to the public, he said. The results will help DRWC better understand not only what the future trail will add to its budget, but any other additional parcels that open as public green space in the future, he said. Squilla said he anticipates the liability issue will wind up handled by DRWC. The waterfront overlay will likely call for a developers to leave a greater amount of open space in their projects than in most other parts of the city. Schiavo said all parties have seemed amenable to this, provided the set-back counts toward that open space – and would continue to count toward that total even if a developer has sold or turned over control of that portion of the property to the city.
Councilman Squilla expects final waterfront overlay in mid-November
The proposed waterfront overlay would create an organized system for the principles of the Central Delaware Master Plan to coordinate the overlay and the underlying zoning so that future development would fit in with the Master Plan. Development that did not fit in with the Master Plan could not happen – and would require a zoning variance or special ordinance. Councilman Mark Squilla had originally hoped it would be passed by city council previous to this past summer’s recess – at least in large part because master plan advocates and developers have each had concerns about the legislation.
At this month’s CDAG meeting, held prior to Squilla’s most recent overlay discussion session, Chairman Matt Ruben reported that master plan advocates and the Development Workshop were near agreement on a means of stretching certain key neighborhood streets to the waterfront. The Workshop opposed the original proposal, which called for literally extending the streets to the river, saying that some properties would be bisected in such a way as to make them unsuitable for development. CDAG opposed a later idea that would have required access, but via a path significantly more narrow than the street. Ruben said the working compromise is that development would have to leave a swath as wide as the water access streets, but the access route would not have to continue at the same angle at which the street meets Delaware Avenue.
Dscussion was also taking place regarding a building height cap. The Master Plan calls for a 100-foot limit, but allows for exemptions at the discretion of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, which much approve plans of development for most Central Delaware projects. While some developers and CDAG have differed on the appropriateness of the 100-foot height limit, both the Development Workshop and CDAG wanted specific guidelines for the PCPC to apply when granting exceptions.
“We are moving toward a bonus system,” Ruben told the board. In other word, developers would be granted additional height above 100 feet for providing specific public benefits, such as putting up a green building or constructing the portion of the Central Delaware Trail that runs along the property.