Red Flags on PhillyU’s Master Plan?

Last Wednesday night’s East Falls Zoning and Land Use Committee meeting went on for two hours, and as far as we can tell for all three issues on the agenda (PhillyU’s Master Plan, PHA Develoment on Ridge, and rezoning on Sunnyside), seems nothing was decided or changed.

No votes or petitions or any real “takeaways” to report — seems everyone was just presenting information. As the meeting was breaking down,  moderator Bill Epstein reminded the crowd that any Community Council member can just call or email EFCC to get an item put on the agenda for next month’s meeting.

I guess we just do these meetings every month until there’s a vote or something…?

As newbies to East Falls’ Community Council process, we’re honestly asking.  To us, last Wednesday night’s PhillyU presentation seemed like a good start to discussions about how best to realize the U’s expansion goals while preserving our area’s natural & historic charms.

But it’s just a start, right?

Several people at the meeting expressed feeling blind-sided by news of the plan, but both PhillyU and our Community Council maintain they’ve been clear and upfront about this Master Plan since its inception in 2010 – 2011.

Neighbors, however, weren’t so sure despite the chorus coming back from local administrators:  Cool your jets, people! We’re just trying to get rezoned, here, to make things easier for everyone over the next 30 years. There’s still tons of process to work through before any ground is broken.

Before addressing this disconnect, please enjoy these video clips concerning possible changes slated for East Falls in the upcoming years:

Basically, looks like PhillyU plans to build some 5-story dorms really soon on the Ravenhill campus.

With a 50-foot setback from the road, to match the Ravenwood Apartments (as opposed to 100 feet setbacks in other areas). Townhouse-type structures planned.

Also slated for this part of campus: a new athletic field with a track.  According to PhillyU’s reps, the sledding hill on Warden isn’t part of that plan, and in fact is just sketched in there in case someone donates an academic building, which they’d put where the softball field is now — and then build a new one at the Nuts.

The land would need leveling, of course — at this point, they’re saying it’d be some kinda terraced retaining wall along the road, there.

And they’re planning a 700-car parking garage at Henry & Schoolhouse.

Again, the meeting was a long one and these clips are just a taste. If you find yourself hungry for more, mark your calendar:  the East Falls Zoning & Land Use Committee Meeting meets the third Wednesday of every month, and they’re open to everyone. Like this guy:

East Falls Local Dr Berger full of suggestions

Jonathan Berger on Timber Lane has a PhD in city, regional & environmental planning — plus, as a lifelong East Fallser he’s uniquely qualified to understand how PhillyU’s plan affects our area’s particular quirks and charms, our traffic and streetscapes.

Dr. Berger feels strongly a better plan could be hatched with more community input. He’s taken it upon himself to inform his neighbors about how PhillyU’s Master Plan affects the area.

Furthermore, Dr. Berger contends that East Falls’ current protocol for informing the community is inadequate. His plea for a more interactive and democratic process, however, turned into a debate over whether Dr. Berger had said “more democratic” or “undemocratic.”

Doesn’t matter, the point is:  YES we all understand that the community notification provided by PhillyU and EFCC/EFDC about this Master Plan was by-the-book. But maybe… this book could use a re-write for the age of technology?

We’re all so busy these days, juggling jobs and kids and commitments.  Is it fair to require people to physically attend two monthly meetings — EFCC and Zoning — to keep apprised of major developments in our own backyard?

East Falls Community Council’s website posts meeting announcements but very little in the way of recaps and information, particularly concerning PhillyU’s Master Plan. Here’s a screenshot of their current Land Use page providing info from as recently as four years ago:

 

East Falls Local EFCCs current page on zoning info 2-19-15
Institutional Educational Land Use Meeting, April 12, 2011; Values & Objectives for Community Land Use Guidelines, August 2011

Is this sufficient for community engagement?  Or might Dr. Berger and his growing brigade of concerned citizens have reason to feel kinda under-informed about important neighborhood issues? 

PhillyU posted their plan online at the end of this January. Before that, they presented it publicly for the first time at November’s zoning meeting, and the following blurb appeared in the next month’s Fallser:

Philadelphia University officials made their first presentation of the school’s 30-year Master Plan at the November 19th meeting of the East Falls Community Council’s Zoning and Land Use Committee.

The plan grew out of a series of discussions between the University and nearby neighbors and the University’s consideration of whether to apply for an institutional zoning overlay under the city’s recently amended zoning code. The long-range plan will be posted on the Zoning tab of the EFCC’’s website, www.eastfallscommunity.org, and will be discussed at future Zoning Committee meetings.  (the Fallser)

A lot of the community seems to have missed this — or at least missed its significance.  Did PhillyU present maps at the meeting? Did they mention new residence halls & the parking garage & the softball field up the Nuts? If not, why not?

If maps and photos were provided in November, how come these important details weren’t disseminated on the EFCC’s website, or in one of their monthly addresses in the Fallser? Seems to us the community desires some context to better understand what all these meetings mean in terms of views, traffic, new business, etc.

Until our local organizational process steps into the 21st century, perhaps the best way for concerned citizens to keep informed & involved is by grass roots efforts such as Dr. Berger’s campaigns for a better Master Plan. Also, your friendly neighborhood bloggers — ahem! — who film this stuff in the hopes of getting us all on the same page (the sooner we can move forward in the best direction possible).

We agree East Falls could use a more educational and inclusive process for Councils & Committees to address community members about important issues like schools, development and preservation. We offer these clips and commentary in the hopes of fostering discussions online and in the neighborhood.  

For real time comments and information — attend a meeting, live and in person! Our Zoning Committee meets 7:00 pm every 3rd Wednesday at Downs Hall on PhillyU’s campus. 

Stay tuned for more exciting recaps…

 

 

 

 

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