Weighing Futures In The Central Northeast

December 5, 2013 | by Sandy Smith


The Central Northeast | Map: Philadelphia City Planning Commission

The Central Northeast | Map: Philadelphia City Planning Commission

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.

Cottman Ave, looking E from Castor, 2013

Cottman and Castor Avenues | Photo: Sandy Smith

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.

Not an art gallery, but the lobby of Northeast High School, was the setting for this installation featuring the draft Central Northeast District Plan | Photo: Sandy Smith

Not an art gallery, but the lobby of Northeast High School, was the setting for this installation featuring the draft Central Northeast District Plan | Photo: Sandy Smith

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.


About the Author

Sandy Smith Sandy Smith has been engaging in journalism and its hired-gun cousin, public relations, in Philadelphia for nearly 30 years. He started award-winning newspapers at the University of Pennsylvania as part of a team and at Widener University all by himself. He has a passionate interest in cities and urban development, which he gets to indulge as editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia Real Estate Blog, and in trains and mass transit, which he indulges wherever and whenever he gets the chance. (You may know him as "MarketStEl" if you lurk on Philadelphia Speaks.)


  1. James says:

    What is needed at Castor and Cottman is the demolition of that hulking building which used to serve as a department store for decades. It is functionally obsolete and it creates a barrier. Clean up that block of such obsolence. New candidates can be the relocation of the Free LIbrary Branch/Health Center/Police station from Harbison Ave on that location – existing Free LIbrary can be torn down along with Health Center and made available for new housing construction vice commercial construciton which would enhance neighborhood stability. Plenty of parking to take care of employees and customers.

    Pedestrian safety can be enhanced, not by red light cameras, but by construction of islands in the middle of COttman Street for them to rest until the light turns green once again. Again this is for PENNDOT to consider.

    There is plenty of shopping available to all comers at Roosevelt Mall and adjacent parcels. THe marketplace will determine what gets to be built and what will close.

    Fox Chase Regional Rail can be improved by extending the line to Southampton in Phase One. Existing railway can be reused as we still have legal ownership of it. NIMBYs opposing resumption of train service are out of luck as we have the right to do so. Construction of a parking garage at Fox Chase Regional station should be considered and a bus bay to pick up riders set up.

  2. Larry Shaeffer says:

    What’s frustrating is that the city and our elected officials are promoting the suburban-style strip mall in other parts of the city. These are neighborhoods with very low rates of car ownership yet the city is subsidizing an auto-centric model that isn’t even working in the ‘burbs anymore. You can see this retail form in many of the “Plazas” (Strawberry, Sedgewick, the new supermarket in Nicetown etc.) being put up in North and SW Philadelphia. See city council members, state reps etc. out front at the 1st shovel and ribbon cutting ceremonies. These strip malls are an insult to the communities and the city taxpayers alike. Larry Shaeffer larryshaeffer@gmail.com

  3. Ranz Abar says:

    Not one to weigh in on pointless topics, I just can’t resist the urge to comment on Jame’s opine on what’s needed to…’fix??’ NE Philly.

    It’s sites like this that don’t require you to sign-up or pay a subscription fee that are the most fun. The raw ideas that free flow from mind are most enjoyable. Amateur city planners are more amusing that Armchair Generals.

    Well let’s think on this. Currently NE Philly is in a state of malaise. Incomes are stagnant, no meaningful industry exists and housing is getting very old and maintenance costly. So home prices are generally stuck in one place.

    And that is exactly why money to invest in pointless ideas such as relocation of libraries and police stations, construction of parking garages and resurrection of truly dead train lines is not just poor investment, but counter productive.

    You see, for every family that buys a home in NE Philly, another family move on. That’s not growth. Investment in new housing where there is no need ROI is not good economics. Only developers of public housing will be interested. Moving libraries and police stations without demographic need is pointless.

    Cottman Ave is a line of demarcation. It is an economic barrier that maintains some level of protection for the farther up NE. Mess with that and you doom the entire NE to straight home value decline.

    James, the ideas that you put forth are not practical, doable or desirable. They represent off the cuff musings with no demonstrated need basis.

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