We the People…

Finally! Full-on democratic voting on important development issues in East Falls. Members weigh in on St. Bridget’s, PhillyU, Pennrose and more.  PLUS:  Tour Midvale’s new community coffeeshop in the making.

EastFallsLocal March Meeting Recap post

An exciting message echoed at the last East Falls Forward meeting-slash-mixer:  East Falls is changing, and we hold the future in our hands.

EFF chair Felicite Moorman stressed how every one of us is needed to help East Falls create a modern, sustainable, and livable neighborhood in step with the exponential growth Philadelphia is undergoing as an Energy Hub.

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“We don’t want to be another Manayunk or Roxborough,” she told the diverse crowd gathered at BuLogics on Midvale last Thursday evening, “We can create a place with our own unique stamp.”

To make this as easy as possible, EFF’s officers have decided to go with a full-on democratic vote:  no committees, no “electoral college” or anything other than one person, one vote. Nice ‘n simple, and unlike some other Registered Community Organizations we know. <ahem>

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VOTING IS OVER!  THE RESULTS ARE IN!!!  More people voted on zoning in East Falls in 24 hours than in the last five years. Tallies provided below, but first, here’s the deal:

EFF members vote for the organization to make recommendations to the City of Philadelphia on things like zoning variances and master plans for new stuff coming to East Falls. EFF’s website provides links, maps, plans, photos, documents, etc. where you can read up on new business and development at your own pace, between meetings.

Third Thursday of every month, EFF officers host a social mixer followed by a meeting to review all important news, plus answer questions and address feedback before voting.

Polling starts at the end of the general meeting, and remains open for 24 hours. Members are automatically emailed a link to the voting survey. Those who aren’t online may submit a paper ballot or use a laptop provided.  How can you become a member? Sign up online or sign in at a meeting and you’re all set to vote!

REALLY LIKE ZONING?  Consider joining the new zoning committee, where you’ll get your hands on all the very latest scoop on new business and development in East Falls.

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Last month, EFF’s officers briefed members on some zoning issues coming up as Philadelphia re-works its antiquated zoning codes. This month, members were prepped to vote on those four issues, but first, vice chair Ryan Buchert clarified that none of the proposed rezonings immediately affect the properties involved:

Rezoning does NOT affect a property as its being used, or even if the owner sells the property. New zoning simply means that if someone wanted to, say, open a business where a house used to be, the new zoning might allow that. But zoning updates would never force business into a home, or vice-versa. Existing zoning is “grandfathered in” until the use of the property changes.

So, we’re not rezoning to change anything now, but to try to plan ahead for the most logical and practical development for four particular areas in our neighborhood to support the diverse, livable community we wish to nurture.

VOTING IS OVER, results are included in the details below. Also, since EFF was starting with such a clean slate, the organization had no “official” opinions yet so Felicite shared her thoughts, for what it’s worth (and we included ’em in case you’re nosy like us, ha).

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#1.  ST. BRIDGET:  Originally, the City suggested changing the church & parking lot’s zoning from Residential to Commerical/Mixed Use — seemed to make sense, since there’s a train station across the street, that a store or cafe might wish to come here if the property sells. However, to most Fallsers and St. Bridget’s church, itself, the thought of losing our beloved local landmark is a horrifying thought, indeed.

The City has since backed off, but still: EFF wanted to ask members to weigh in here, anyway, to help inform where we all stand. Felicite agreed that Midvale near the train station has great commercial potential but wanted to leave Bridget’s be for now. MEMBERS VOTED 29 – 19 to KEEP ST BRIDGET’S RESIDENTIAL ZONING

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#2.  PENNROSE:  That overgrown grassy area on Ridge between East River Bank down to Schoolhouse Lane belongs to the Philadelphia Housing Authority, who wants to put public housing here. YIKES, right?! But wait — PHA pulled in Pennrose, an award-winning developer (who also manages the apartments above the bank, Falls Ridge) to create a multi-use apartment building with first-floor commercial.

But YIKES again, we already tried that with the East River Bank building, which does a great job housing seniors & other fixed-income folks but the perfectly nice storefronts below have sat empty for years. Just because you designate space for business, doesn’t guarantee business will set up shop. Who wants to look at vacant windows with rows of LEASE NOW signs?

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But wait (again!) — Gina Snyder of EFDC admits that the East River Bank building’s commercial plans never worked out, and points her finger at PHA’s “poor landlording” that’s turned off prospective businesses. Plus, the property’s development was constrained by HUD requirements which isn’t the case with the “Pennrose” land next door (kinda wish they’d change the sign, though).

Speaking of Pennrose — to Gina’s surprise they appear to be taking over management of the East River Bank building: new LEASE NOW signs showed up earlier this year.  I guess we’ll see in the upcoming months whether Pennrose is any better at finding tenants than PHA.

Meanwhile, this undeveloped “Pennrose” area is currently zoned Residential;  proposed zoning would allow for higher density here and also commercial use. Felicite admitted feeling torn — she likes higher density and commercial use here, but worries about maintaining “East Falls character.” MEMBERS VOTED  40 – 8 TO REZONE PENNROSE/PHA PROPERTY TO HIGHER DENSITY, MIXED USE.

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#3.   RIDGE ROW HOUSES:  The City suggested rezoning a stretch of arched townhomes on Ridge from Commercial/Mixed Use to Residential to reflect the fact that they’re currently being used as homes. However, such a change conflicts with plans for our commercial corridor that we are hoping to develop. In this case, keeping the Commercial zoning seems to make sense.  Felicite agreed entirely. MEMBERS VOTED 37 – 11 to KEEP ROWHOMES COMMERCIAL/MIXED USE.

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#4. PHILADELPHIA UNIVERSITY MASTER PLAN:  Philly U seeks “Institutional Zoning” because without it, they can’t alter more than 120 square feet without asking Community Council (and now East Falls Forward) for approval. Their nice sign at Henry & Schoolhouse? Took them TWO YEARS of back-and-forth with EFCC, who wanted input over everything from lettering to landscaping.

Anyhoo, at the meeting Ryan explained how much of the original plan has been changed (like, 95% of it to accommodate community feedback), and where to view the current plan on Philly U’s website.  Felicite summarized:

“This has been going on for five years, attempting to get it approved. I can’t speak to the mystery of that so I will refrain from doing so. But today, those people who live close to the university wish to add to the Master Plan dedicated greenspace deeded or somehow committed in perpetuity. Seems we’re stuck at a bit of an impasse.

“I love green space. I live here because of this. The Wissahickon and River nearby makes me happy… I appreciate the desire to maintain this beauty. I don’t know if five years in is the time to start this. While I can’t speak to this Master Plan history, I can speak personally about PhillyU, an organization I’ve only had pleasurable experiences with. You, however, will have your own opinions and experiences that will inform your vote.”

Bill Epstein (EFCC president who attended the meeting) agreed:

“To those folks who say we want a guarantee that you aren’t going to be building on certain space, I say, you have about as good a guarantee as you’ll get. They don’t intend to build on that space and if they do want to, they’ll have to come back to the community.”

He could not, however, offer EFCC’s official opinion on PhillyU’s plan, as they’re still holding meetings about it. Felicite offered her two-cents:

“I have two words about so-called 30 year plans — or any plan intending to create something in perpetuity: smart phones. They did not exist 12 years ago, but now there’s not a single one of us who doesn’t freak out a little when we don’t know where ours is. Our better measure of judgment isn’t time but our partners. Do we trust them? Do we want to work with them in a spirit of cooperation? Or do we want to be challenging?”  

But everyone needs to make their best decision, and EFF will present these votes to Councilman Jones. MEMBERS VOTED 45 – 3 TO APPROVE PHILADELPHIA UNIVERSITY’S INSTITUTIONAL PLAN

Other news…

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Saturday April 9th is Philly’s Spring Cleanup. This year, EFF will start at Ridge & Midvale and move up to Mifflin to wrap up with the other volunteers in the rock garden. Hopefully, we’ll get a nice big stretch of East Falls cleaned up!

Congratulations to Charles and Lorraine Weinberger of Netherfield Road! They won this month’s door prize:  Dinner for Two at Fiorino. Next month is a MYSTERY PRIZE (ooooh aaaah) drawn from all names signed in (must be present at the next meeting to win, Jeannine).

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Lastly, a big announcement: a recent survey by EFDC showed that the top two new businesses East Fallsers wish to see in this community were a coffeeshop & a grocery — both are now in the works! While Felicite didn’t have any details yet to share about this new market, she invited everyone to follow her a few doors down to tour the Little Red Cafe, East Falls’ new community coffeeshop currently coming together on Midvale.

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PS  Thoughts for this year’s Bike Race Block Party? Volunteers needed to help organize food trucks, moon bounces, face-painting, zip-lines, and whatever you can think of.

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Stay updated on neighborhood development at EastFallsForward.org, where you’ll find links, maps, pics, plans, and more to help you make the most informed opinions possible. (EFF’s chair & vice chair head the tech company BuLogics, so you know their site is tight!)

East Falls Local supports walkable, sustainable zoning for East Falls! Please engage in the comments below, or light up EFF’s social media:

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