“It’s time to start over.” That was Councilman Curtis Jones‘ message to a crowd of about 25 residents who assembled at Jon Berger’s house Sunday to voice their concerns about negotiations with Philadelphia University over its 30 Year Master Plan.
He felt that talks between the two sides had stalled, with complaints by neighbors that the university walked away from the negotiating table: “I believe the U can be a good neighbor, but to do that they have to talk to the community.”
Since ultimately Philly U’s plan would need to go through his office anyway, Jones is in an excellent position to put the freeze on progress until both sides negotiate a compromise — which is exactly what he’s doing, to the delight of the crowd of folks from Timber, Apalogen, Netherfield, Schoolhouse and other streets bordering the university’s park-like (for now) campus.
“I’m an excellent arbitrator — especially when I’m fed well!” he joked, referring to the killer spread provided by host Jon Berger (we definitely made a note to attend more Timber Lane meetings, ha).
Right now, the big issue is whether to grant Philly U the institutional zoning it desires — Jones recommends against that, at this time, which seemed to satisfy some of the neighbors. The majority of buzz in the “peanut gallery” where we were standing, though, seemed to support Dr. Berger’s flashier approach. To him, Philly U’s pursuit of institutional zoning gives East Falls a golden opportunity to take key green space out of the development cycle forever:
“They have overreached with this plan. And we have leverage because they need our approval to get the institutional zoning. We can use conservation easements, zoning measures, and whatever other methods are at our disposal to take all historically significant and ecologically sound land out of the development cycle in perpetuity.”
Jones felt that any negotiating strategy should begin with homework by the residents. He said they need to dissect the university’s plan and come up with a list of 10 major must-haves that he could bring to university representatives to begin talks. Of course he can’t promise everyone will be happy with all the results, but when communities do their homework, they are usually rewarded for their efforts.
Kris Soffa of the Schuylkill Valley Nature Center agreed — she introduced Councilman Jones by crediting him with helping her community manage development, and reassuring the audience that he’ll be just as fair and dedicated for East Falls.
Next steps? Jones will be touring Chestnut Hill College campus on May 22nd. The college’s development in and around the Wissahickon Gorge has been lauded by urban planners for its conservation of green space. Jones felt that the college’s plan could serve as an alternative to the one proposed by Philly U.
Meanwhile, the community will be putting together that list of “yes’s and no’s” for another review with the Councilman before moving forward with negotiations with the university.
Annnnnnnd… break! Meet up maybe in June for more discussions. At Dr. Berger’s home, perhaps. With more awesome food, and hey is that a pool out back….??