Long Time Coming for Ridge Flats — UPDATED

Almost twenty years of community planning may finally transform the East Falls Riverfront Business District!Rivage renderings.5.9.Birdseye View Looking North

(Editor’s note): Just in time for tonight’s big Rivage presentation (7PM at Downs Hall, PhilaU,  Interactive map here): a plea from the opposition! Scott Cameron’s email arrived last week, and we’ve since been back & forth with him about Grasso Holding’s new project at Ridge/Kelly/Calumet, up for zoning this week. To put it lightly, Scott is not happy about the plans.

To be completely honest, we’re not entirely sure we follow Mr. Cameron’s argument — doesn’t help that he declined to provide supporting info when we asked. Still, his letter reflects a vocal minority that some East Fallsers blame for the trash-strewn, empty lot at the heart of our business district for almost 20 years.

Scott and his contingency will be at East Falls’ big zoning meeting tonight, speaking out against what they feel will be a travesty to our community.

Meanwhile, our local Development Corporation scrambles to get the word out that this project will invest $70 million here, and revitalize our waterfront. More importantly, Grasso’s project is not some spaceship from the sky but the thoughtful result of two decades of community input, plus some of the best urban planners in Philadelphia.

However you feel about Grasso’s intentions for the site, give yourself a few minutes to review both sides of the story and make an informed decision. (Scroll down to the end of Gina’s post to read Scott’s editorial in full)

Gina’s post:

Next week, the two registered community organizations in East Falls (East Falls Forward and East Falls Community Council) are having a public meeting to see the design for Ridge Flats, a development planned for 4300 Ridge Avenue.

The 1.6 acre parcel of land, commonly called “The Rivage” (the large fenced in lot located between Ridge Avenue and Kelly Drive at the Falls Bridge) will be an apartment building with retail on the first floor.

This is just what the East Falls community has planned — the plan by the developer, David Grasso, meets multiple goals set by the neighborhood.

HISTORY
Almost twenty years ago, the neighborhood worked on a Riverfront Master Plan that anticipated development along the block.  Around the same time, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) and Mayor Rendell bought the Rivage parcel at the request of then Councilman Michael Nutter. The concern was that this fantastic location might be squandered on a drive-through or other use that would not benefit the neighborhood.

Ten years ago, the East Falls community undertook a planning process specifically for the Rivage parcel.  The neighborhood had a series of meetings to decide what was most important in terms of design and use.  The East Falls Development Corporation (EFDC), which organized the process, then recorded those requirements for development:  retail on the first floor, good design, and traffic changes to reduce congestion.

The EFDC worked with the PRA to develop a community input process to make sure that the site was developed to the benefit of the neighborhood.  We negotiated with the PRA to include community supported design requirements in the Request for Proposals (RFP), input into the selection process, and continuous and open communications.

At every step of the way, the East Falls community, through the East Falls Community Council, participated in meetings and set the standards.

USES
The PRA put the site out for development several times.  In the review process, the East Falls community repeatedly supported development of housing and retail.  East Falls even gave zoning approval to a high rise tower with retail and office.  We wanted shopping and dining.  We wanted more residents to be in the Riverfront Business District.

Most recently, after the developers had submitted their proposals, the community again supported a development with apartments in the upper floors and retail on the first floor.

EastFallsLocal Grass holdings project ride ave traffic improvements

TRAFFIC CHANGES
One big concern that people have about development is that it will increase traffic problems.  East Falls is making the developer decrease traffic congestion.

The cause of congestion along Ridge Avenue at Calumet Street during rush hour is through-way commuters (those driving through the Falls, not local traffic or residents).

Because the PRA was working with our neighborhood, it REQUIRED the developer to dedicate land and money toward addressing some of the traffic problems on Ridge Avenue.

While many southbound drivers want to turn right (at the Dunkin Donuts) to cross the Falls Bridge, they hold up the cars continuing straight on Ridge.  Grasso will be required to widen Ridge Avenue to create a turning lane for rush hour.  This will ease congestion.  During the remainder of the time, the lane will be for parking.

EastFallsLocal Grass holdings project ride ave traffic improvements 2 closer

One other improvement: Grasso is required to create a left turn lane on Calumet facing the Falls Bridge so that traffic can flow forward across the bridge without being held back by cars trying to turn left.  This should also ease congestion for both directions of Ridge Avenue because traffic will flow more freely across the Bridge.

PARKING
The Grasso development will have sufficient parking for the residents and the uses on the site.

EastFallsLocal Rivate Site 5-13-16

DESIGN
Come out to the joint meeting of East Falls Forward and East Falls Community Council on Wednesday, May 18, to see the design and express your opinion.  The design drawings are available at this link.

Scott Cameron’s Letter

Our East Falls Waterfront

I’ve been an architectural designer and city planner since 1972 and have worked with city government agencies off and on and find them all to be dictatorial in nature. The most glaring example I’ve seen is the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

They are the prime ministry of blockage for anything we might envision for our waterfront. Their mission is also a mysterious subject that seems politically driven by persons who do not live in East Falls nor have any instinct for making it a better place to live, and too often give outside interests an outsized chance at almost anything that might benefit them, rather than to protect and nourish the hopes and dreams of the residents who live and work in East Falls.

We are now getting a housing development on the waterfront that no one wanted on a lot that’s been hotly contested for as long as I’ve lived here.

We have two Gas stations within a block of one another on our waterfront when one is already more than we need. and we have a commercial district that is a far cry from our neighbors in Manayunk, and Chestnut Hill in appearance and charm. So what’s wrong with this picture? Do our voices count for anything? Why are we the Redevelopment Authority’s whipping boy? Could it because we’ve been overly vocal and fought them against feckless development, or derailed their plans for a colossal high-rise in the 4300 block of Ridge.

We need to ask City Council for an exception to the forcible over-bite of the PRA and a reconsideration of our waterfront as a valuable asset worth extraordinary measures that would open up the area between Ridge and Kelly Drive, and from Ferry Rd. to the Falls Bridge and move the Fire Department to the 4300 block, in a long overdue new facility that could be shared by Fire/ Police and EMT.

Then we could buy those structures that are in between and create a distinct ‘River Walk Park’ that would contribute to the emergence of East Falls as a premium community destination instead of a back water-‘ho-hum’-pass through that reads very poorly as one drives by.

Who is the Redevelopment Agency working for anyway?

Scott Cameron

Netherfield Road

 

 

5 Comments

  • Greg

    Scott Cameron: “We are now getting a housing development on the waterfront that no one wanted on a lot that’s been hotly contested for as long as I’ve lived here.”

    Wait, what?

    I definitely want Grasso’s housing development and so does everybody else in East Falls that I know (and I know a lot of people).

    Scott bemoans our lackluster commercial district but I have to wonder how those businesses on Ridge and Midvale will ever improve if we don’t expand the nearby population base along the river. Manayunk and Chestnut Hill businesses thrive because they have strong population living in immediate proximity to those businesses.

    Grasso’s well-designed plan will bring hundreds of more affluent consumers to the doorstep of those businesses while having the added benefit of alleviating the traffic mess that currently exists by way of his road improvements.

  • Sean

    As a response to Mr. Cameron:

    The Rivage is a building that creates density that could make pedestrian-centric development on Ridge possible, making “drive-through customer reliant” businesses like gas stations less competitive that at present. It has one of the lowest-parking-impacts of any development I’ve ever seen of its size. It has commercial spaces that would not require the (due to lack of density, possible structural problems of old buildings, etc) investment-risky proposition of rehabbing one of the older Ridge rows into a new commercial space. It will improve traffic where it is badly needed. It has, in my opinion, an attractive design.

    Your alternative, a new Fire/EMT building, and for us to “buy those structures that are in between and create a distinct ‘River Walk Park’” have some distinct problems. Who pays for for the Fire/EMT building? The woefully underfunded emergency services? Who is the “us” the ponies up the money for several buildings on Ridge? I’m not saying there is not an outside chance of some type of public/private fundraising, but the probabilities of success seem awfully low, let alone a timetable for completion.

    In the meantime, as much as community groups have rights, so do property owners. Us as residents may be able to live with the stagnation-towards-hope state of things and reject the big flashy projects, but the city will not begrudge property owners from serving the now seemingly-reliable customer base for Ridge – roadside commuters – with smaller-scale, low-profit-margin-and-therefore-quality projects. If two gas stations within a block are seemingly profitable, the gigantic corporate forces behind drive-thru eateries won’t be turned away forever.

    I am a new resident, but I do live here, and I own quite close to the proposed Rivage site. My skin is in the game. From my perspective, the rubric of “positive development” in this town is, for many, far too rigid in weighing changing pros and cons, and in its paralysis, may allow for a death of thousands little cons. The Rivage is not perfect, but its pros far outweigh its cons.

  • Kevin O'Brien

    I have to agree with Greg’s comment. A tiny park surrounded by busy traffic on all sides is not appealing to me. Philadelphia already has many small parks that are great if you are deaf, and otherwise deafening.
    If you want the businesses on Ridge to survive, and you want local shops to walk to, this apartment/retail with it’s own parking and traffic improvements seems like the best you could hope for. I’ll be interested to see if there is widespread support for Mr. Cameron’s opposition to the development.
    I think after sitting on the property for 20 years, making us taxpayers foot the bill for an empty lot, the city is moving in the right direction.

  • Mike Daigeaun

    While Grasso’s plan is not the initial plan the community wanted for the site, his stems from the original of Ridge Flats that was the choice PICKED BY THE COMMUNITY from the three RFP’s for the location.

  • Gina Snyder

    Great to see folks at the meeting last night. The Grasso project was strongly supported by the people in attendance. It is wonderful to see the passion and hope for good things in East Falls!

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