The Philadelphia City Planning Commission has workshopped and forumed and charretted and massaged the Central Northeast District Plan over the past six months. Now that it’s almost ready for prime time, the commission put it on display for critics to review at Northeast High School on Tuesday night.
Recommendations for each of the plan’s three focus areas–Fox Chase, Five Points, and the Cottman Avenue corridor from Roosevelt Boulevard to Castor Avenue–were displayed on easels in the high school lobby, as were the main recommendations for district-wide transportation, development and neighborhood connections and desired zoning changes for the district.
At each easel, Planning Commission staff engaged with area residents who had things to say about the ideas–or had recommendations of their own–duly jotting their comments and criticisms on large notepads by each easel.
“We’ve gotten some good suggestions,” Commission planning director Rick Redding said of comments made by residents attending the open house for the draft final plan.
Residents’ main concerns with the focus area plans centered on pedestrian safety and changes that would increase traffic in the commercial districts. In general, residents were supportive of proposed changes in Fox Chase that would cluster the bus routes that end there next to the Regional Rail station and reconfigure station parking to promote a more pedestrian-friendly, village atmosphere.
The commission’s interest in preserving and upgrading Midcentury Modern storefronts along Rising Sun Avenue from Five Points to Lawncrest was echoed by at least one resident who called the street “an eyesore” in need of improvement. Others also commented on the difficulties pedestrians faced in crossing the streets that converge at Five Points, one of the areas the plan seeks to improve.
The proposals to create a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use commercial hub around Cottman and Bustleton avenues (and the subject of a previous story of mine, HERE) drew raspberries from one particularly vocal critic at the meeting. Nancy Ostroff, who lives not far from Cottman and Bustleton, remarked that people were not moving into the area as it is and that more buildings in the area would not change the dynamic of homeowners moving out and renters moving in. What would, she said, is increased attention to the area’s public schools. “Give the schools what they need before you talk about building more buildings,” she said.
There were others, however, who did like the idea of transforming Cottman Avenue into a more urbane thoroughfare. “Some people did want to ‘bring some of that downtown vibe to the Northeast’,” Redding said. As the largest commercial district in the Northeast and the site of a number of regional public services, including a city health clinic and the Northeast Regional branch of the Free Library, the Cottman corrridor would be a logical place to do this.
Most of the zoning changes proposed under the draft plan are minor; the two most significant ones merely ratify existing uses that were allowed on their sites under the old zoning code classifications but now under the new ones. Those two would reclassify the sites of Jeanes Hospital/Fox Chase Cancer Center and Nazareth Hospital as light industrial.
Transportation improvements were not a major topic of comment, even though another review of transit options in the Roosevelt Boulevard corridor is in the works. One commenter, however, did voice support for the long-planned, twice-stillborn Roosevelt Boulevard subway, which has reportedly been removed from the list of alternatives the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission is studying in an ongoing review.
The open house drew a crowd of more than 100 (in this reporter’s estimate), including a number of Northeast civic and business community leaders. Most of these, presumably, endorsed the sentiment of one commenter who said, “It’s great to see some infrastructure planning for Northeast Philadelphia!”
The draft plan will be officially released in January, and the final plan will be published in February or March.