WHAT'S NEW IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

 

 


December 1, 2016


Update on Criminal Activity in CCRA Neighborhood


15th & Locust St update:  Residents have expressed concern about the continuing issues (usually relating to nightlife) at this corner.  The PPD states that crime is down in the area since the last community-PPD meeting. Complaints about nuisance behaviors persist.  Walnut, 16th to 20th St: There have been high profile incidents but the PPD states crime in general is not increasing in this area.  CCRA's Government Relations Committee  is arranging a January, 2017 community-PPD meeting for neighboring high rises, residents, and businesses to get input.  Updates to follow.


November 23, 2016


18XX Pine St. Mail Bomb Likely Not Hate Crime 

The FBI & Bur. of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms have taken over the investigation of the 18XX Pine mail bombing from the PPD.  While the investigation continues, authorities at this time do not believe the incident was a hate crime.



September 29, 2016


Eat, Drink and Save the Earth! Learn about Solar Discount Meeting, Wed, 10/5, 5:30pm, Trinity Church, 22nd & Spruce

Wine. Cheese. Di Bruno's goodies. Save money with the Solarize Center City program, providing  solar arrays at reduced cost (with added discount for CCRA members) installed by Solar States. Register here (we need a headcount).

 

Bring your neighbors! The more participants, the greater the discount - up to 12% depending on the number participating.  This up-front discount combines with a 30% federal tax credit. Savings pile up as electric bills shrink over time, because the Sun is free.

 

Applications for the program accepted through Jan. 31, 2017.  Contracts to be signed by Feb 28. Open to all residents in CCRA's territory (JFK to South, Broad to Schuylkill). Only CCRA members qualify for additional discount. For more information, click here.



September 22, 2016


A Solar Energy Letter to the Neighborhood From CCRA'er Judy Wicks


This fall, I'm teaming up with the Center City Residents Association, the Clean Air Council and  my home's solar energy contractor, Solar States,  on the  Solarize Center City campaign so residents of Center City West can use their collective buying power to purchase rooftop solar systems at greatly reduced costs.


To register for the campaign kick-off event, click here:


The solar panels that Solar States installed on my roof went active in March. I am very happy with the quality of their work and the tremendous savingsmonthly electric bills as low as $7, in my all-electric house (no natural gas). Moreover, the renewable energy curbs climate change and improves air quality, reducing asthma and other pollution related illnessesSolar States is Philadelphia owned and operated and creates green jobs supporting our local economy.


Solarize Center City offers discounts to residents who solarize together - the more neighbors the greater the discount which can be as much as 30 cents per installed watt, 35 cents for CCRA members. A typical row home needs 5000 to 7500 watts so the maximum Solar States Discount could be as much as $2625 AND there's a federal tax credit of 30% (click for info on tax credit

not to mention reduced electric bills  over the years. Remember, the sun is free!


For more information visit: www.SolarizeCenterCity.com.
Or email me at info@judywicks.com
To register for the campaign kick-off event on October 5th, click here 
https://solarstates.ticketleap.com/solarize-center-city-kick-off/


September 15, 2016


It's Always Solar In Philadelphia - Solar Discount Program for CCRA Members Kickoff, Wed, 10/5, 5:30pm, Trinity Church, 22nd & Spruce St.


Enjoy   wine, cheese and Di Bruno's goodies and learn about the Solarize Center City program  which provides  rooftop  solar arrays  at greatly reduced costs (with an added discount for CCRA members) installed by Solar States. Please register here so we may tally a headcount. Bring your neighbors!

 

CCRA member, green activist,  and founder of West Philadelphia's White Dog cafe, Judy Wicks, will describe how  rooftop solar panels installed by Solar States, have driven her bills in an all electric home to as low as $7.00 per month.  

 

The Solar States  program  reduces  equipment/installation costs  by as much as 15% depending on the number of participants.  This up front discount is combined with a federal tax credit  allowing  participants to shrink their tax bill by 30% of the equipment/ installation costs.  Further  savings pile up over the years as electric bills diminish or disappear because, after all, the Sun is free.

 

Here's how it works:

  • When you sign your contract, you'll automatically start saving with a base rate, $3.15/per watt of capacity in the system, far below industry standards. Standard row homes require installations of between 5000 and 7500 watts. 
  • When 15 of your neighbors sign up, you'll save an extra $0.20/watt.
  • When 30 of your neighbors sign contracts, your savings will jump to $0.30/watt.
  • And CCRA members get an additional $0.05/watt discount to install solar, saving you hundreds of dollars!

Solar States, a Philadelphia owned and operated B corporation devoted to a triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, has completed over 250 installations in Philadelphia and the suburbs. In partnership with the Clean Air Council, Solar States has educated students for entry into the green collar economy, a field with sustaining wages and career opportunities.

 

Applications for the installation program will be accepted  through the end of January. All contracts must be signed by February 28. The program is open to residents living in CCRA's territory,  between JFK Boulevard and South Street from Broad Street to the Schuylkill River but only CCRA members qualify for the additional 0.05/watt discount. For more information, click here.



August 11, 2016


A First Step: Realty Tax Reform Advances In Harrisburg


The state constitutional "uniformity clause" amendment, permitting Philadelphia commercial properties to be taxed at a rate higher than residential properties, has advanced in Harrisburg. HB 171 passed with, drum roll please, bipartisan support by a 170 - 25 House vote and a 49 -2 Senate margin, the first step in a challenging multistep process. The amendment must next pass once again in   both houses and then win voter approval in a ballot referendum. HB 171 has the backing of Mayor Kenney and is being advanced by The Philadelphia Growth Coalition, an alliance of mostly commercial and union groups with a few outliers such as the Committee of Seventy.  The proposal enables increases in commercial realty tax rates up to 15% higher than residential rates provided that the incremental revenues are dedicated to wage and business tax reductions.  In a March 16 What's New, we reported on CCRA President Chuck Goodwin's March 9 letter to Council supporting the nexus between the wage/business reduction and the commercial realty tax increase. The Job Growth Coalition contends that decreases in these taxes will encourage business growth which, in turn, will support office construction and increase assessed values. The Center City District, a PGC charter member, maintains that decreased wage/business taxes would counter the decline in Center City office jobs, which, despite a current resurgence, are still 1.2 % below 1990 levels. The CCD asserts that while white collar employers relocate to avoid tax bites, meds and eds, tied to their institutional superstructure, hospitals and classrooms with city addresses, cannot relocate. The Center City District reports that, since 2005,  medical based Philadelphia employment has risen by 21% and education jobs have risen by  6%. Overall, since 1970, the number of jobs in the City has dropped by 25.2% while, over the same period, jobs in New York City have risen 14.5% and in Boston by 18.3%.


August 4, 2016


Further Work At Schuylkill Community Garden


The Schuylkill River Park Community Garden's 28th year has been its most eventful. First, the Garden was closed temporarily as a result of construction debris falling from  One Riverside, the high rise  condominium being erected to the north of the Garden. Now, One Riverside workers have commandeered, albeit temporarily,  the planting parcel outside of the enclosed garden plot area to erect a wall  separating parkland from the One Riverside premises.

This commandeered space,  to the north of the walkway leading to the Garden's main gate off 25th Street,  is tended by Garden Steering Committee volunteers led by Joan Wells, gardener extraordinaire and recipient (with husband Dane) of the Lenora Berson Community Service Award. The One Riverside wall construction project is subject to a Temporary Licensing Agreement issued by the City Department of Parks and Recreation prepared in consultation with CCRA and  the Garden Steering Committee. The Licensing Agreement calls for One Riverside to complete the wall work by October 30. More important, the Agreement obligates One Riverside to ensure that the work area is restored to its original condition.  Under the Agreement, One Riverside must perform the work in collaboration with a landscape architect and an arborist so that the plantings,  trees, and soil are protected. Depending on the timing of completion, some of the planting efforts may be delayed until the Spring 2017 planting season. 




July 28, 2016


Public Meeting on Derelict Property on SE Cor.18th & Delancey: Mon, 8/8 7:30 PM 18th & Spruce


A stroll  down the  1800 block of Delancey takes you past some  grand homes including 2014 Delancey, Eddie Murphy's mansion in the 1983 movie "Trading Places" but then you reach the southeast corner of 18
th Street and Delancey (325 South 18th). That property, vacant and dilapidated for more than 20 years, brings to mind  another movie, Hitchcock's "Psycho" which featured  Norman Bates' residence, the ramshackle Victorian  atop the hill overlooking the Bates Motel.   

 

If you are interested in seeing changes at 325 South 18th,  join your neighbors at Temple Beth Zion - Beth Israel, 18th & Spruce, on Monday Aug 8 at 7:30 to hear how the public can participate in an  action seeking the appointment of a conservator to rehab the structure and recoup the expenses from the property's value. The meeting will be led by  representatives of the Philadelphia Community Development Coalition and two near neighbors who have filed  the conservator  claim.   

 

The building is no stranger to litigation. The City Revenue Department filed a real estate tax claim in  August of 2011 which resulted in a payment last summer. Licenses and Inspections has been pursuing a separate claim for various code infractions since December of 2011.  In these two City  proceedings, members of the public, including CCRA representatives, were not permitted to testify.  But under the conservator statute, citizens may present evidence on issues such as:

  • Whether the property's condition affects the economic well being of nearby residents and businesses
  • Whether the property has not been occupied for the last twelve months
  • Whether the building is fit for occupancy or use.
  • Whether the buildings condition has created health or safety hazards



July 21, 2016


Immigration Into The City - Coming To An Address Near You 


The latest Pew Report, "A Portrait of Philadelphia Migration" doesn't paint an Emma Lazarus picture of tired and poor "huddled masses yearning to be free" and instead describes  arrivals who are "younger, better educated, more likely to be non-Hispanic white or Asian'. Oh, and by the way,  a lot of these nouveau arrivès are moving next door - 23% moved into Greater Center City (Girard/Poplar to Washington Ave. between the rivers), an area which accounts for only 9% of the population. It's a youth movement, 65% are between 18 and 34. Not surprisingly,  about 2/3 of this  demographic are students, tipping the scales towards a more educated populace, 51% of the arrivals aged 25 or older had at least a bachelor's degree while 42% of those who departed were in that demographic. Lurking within these exuberant numbers are some  unsettling trends. While Philadelphia's population continues to grow, the number of new domestic arrivals (2.7% of the City's population) remains low in comparison to other cities (though still larger than New York City's 1.9%). Moreover, the number of people leaving Philadelphia was larger than the number of arrivals  from areas outside the 11 county metropolitan area suggesting a certain insularity.  Also, households with children under 18 accounted for 45% of those leaving and only 28% of those arriving, a contrast which suggests that City living is problematic for families with children. 



July 14, 2016


A Score Against an Eyesore

The Art Commission rejected digital billboards for SEPTA Station entrances, a proposal that CCRA's board had voted to oppose.  The promoter was invited to try again with a better design.  We will see what happens. Stay tuned.


Further Temporary Garden Closures at Schuylkill River Park

 

Dranoff Properties has asked the City's Parks and Recreation Department for  a temporary license permitting workers to enter the public planting  area east of the brick garden walls adjacent to, and immediately south of  the 25th & Locust One Riverside construction site so that a brick wall may be erected. To view a graphic depicting the area involved, click here. The wall would separate the One Riverside property from the Park land to the south. The parcel at issue does not include any of the plots leased by CCRA to gardeners all of which are located within the garden walls.   CCRA, as the City's licensee, plants and maintains this public garden on the City's behalf. Consequently, Parks and Recreation has conditioned the delivery of a license on the issuance of a letter from CCRA approving the Parks and Recreation decision.  The erection of the wall will necessarily disrupt the plantings in the licensed area and could affect its in-ground irrigation system. Consequently, the Association and the Schuylkill River Park Garden Steering Committee have requested that Dranoff contract to provide remediation services covering the irrigation system, the plants and ground covering, the trees, and the soil.  As part of the Agreement, the current English Ivy ground cover will be replaced with a non-invasive species.  Negotiations are continuing between Dranoff and CCRA.



July 7, 2016


O'Connor Pool Cookout Tues, 7/12, Sponsored by CCRA: Just in Time for the Olympics 


Michael Phelps can't join us (something about a meet in Rio) BUT you and your neighbors can still attend the CCRA funded cookout on Tuesday July 12, 6 to 8 pm. Scope out the spiffed up  O'Connor Pool,  at 26th & South Streets, featuring:
  • Colorful poolside furniture & umbrellas to make lounging at the pool more comfortable
  • Greenery, including indigenous trees & plants, arranged poolside
  • A new rain shower head & privacy screen around the poolside shower
  • Creative use of concrete stain on the pool deck to improve the ambiance
  • New programming to include Aqua Zumba and Poolside Yoga, beginning the week of July 11th

The  evening will include  an Adult Swim (with special prizes for anyone who bests a Phelps record) followed by Poolside Yoga, ages 18+ only.

 

These impressive upgrades to the Pool, which is part of Markward playground, received generous financial support from the Markward Advisory Council, Friends of Schuylkill River Park and the City of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Department program Swim Philly! Program.  Many other local organizations and neighbors lent their support to the project, including South x Schuylkill, South of South Neighborhood Association, Center City Resident's Association, and South Street West Business Association, among others.

 

Pool operating hours and programming options can be foundat www.markwardplayground.com or on the Markward Rec Facebook page or by calling 215-685-6593.



June 30, 2016


Center City & Commuting: Not an Oxymoron

 

It is easy to feel compassion for (or superiority to) our  friends in the suburbs  whom we tend to regard as sentenced  to a lifetime of  commuting, usually  by car,  with no hope of parole - dead men driving as it were. But the most recentreport from the Center City District belies this attitude.  Even though 60% of the residents river to river, Girard to Tasker,  get to work without a car,  24% reverse commute to employment  out of Philadelphia. Given that statistic,  it is not surprising that a significant portion of downtown residents drive to work. Of 16 downtown neighborhoods studied, our   Rittenhouse Square community  reported the smallest incidence of auto commuting . Even so,  one out of four employees residing in the Rittenhouse Square area,    commute  by car. The percentage grows in nearby neighborhoods, in Graduate Hospital, the figure is 37%  and in Society Hill 44% motor to work. The top two  targets for reverse commutes are Lower Merion and Bensalem, both just across the City border. Number three is Upper Merion where 15% of the jobs are staffed by Philadelphia residents, many of whom work at the King of Prussia mall, followed closely by Abington, which also borders Philadelphia's boundaries. Those four destinations account for 58% of the reverse commute to the top ten destinations.  While a quarter of our neighbors reverse commute by car, many use regional rail, Paoli station being the most popular destination. 



June 23, 2016


CCRA Board Agrees to Reopen Garden on Conditions 


Our last newsletter reported the  Board's decision to close the 25th and Locust Street Community Garden because  dangerous construction debris was falling into garden plots from the adjacent job site at One Riverside.

 

At a June 20 special board meeting attended by One Riverside's developer, Dranoff Properties, and its contractor, INTECH Construction, to which Community Garden leaseholders were invited, the Association authorized a Board taskforce to open the Garden under the following conditions:

 

  1. INTECH's  installation of a fence with two gates north of the hedge bordering the main path leading from the 25th Street gate.
  2. INTECH's agreement to lock and unlock the interior fence gates at the beginning and end of its 7 to 3:30 work day so that gardeners in the northern sector could tend their plots during non work hours.
  3. The non fenced in areas of the garden should be open 24 hrs a day seven days a week.
  4. INTECH's addition of  CCRA, the gardeners and the Garden's supervisory body, the Garden Steering Committee, to its insurance policy as additional insureds.
  5. INTECH'S  receipt of a letter from its insurer's consultants, the Graham Company, regarding the safety merits of these measures.
  6. A letter from the Association's counsel, Stanley Krakower, Esq.,authorizing the reopening of the Garden. 

 As of today, June 23:

  1. INTECH has installed the fence BUT the two gates have yet to be inserted.
  2. INTECH is reviewing a proposal from CCRA's lawyer regarding additional insured coverage.
  3. INTECH has received a Graham Company letter found to be acceptable to CCRA's counsel.
  4. INTECH has agreed to open and close the gates once they arrive.

June 16, 2016


CCRA Temporarily Closes Community Garden for Safety Concerns on Advice of Counsel


Due to  reports of construction debris falling from the One Riverside building into the Community Garden at 25th & Spruce Streets, the Association's Board, on advice of counsel, decided to temporarily close the Garden starting tomorrow until safe conditions can be assured.  (Gardeners are receiving direct emails.) A special board meeting on the garden is called for Monday 4:30-6:00 PM at Trinity Memorial Church, 22nd and Spruce Streets.   All members are invited to attend. 



June 9, 2016


Eleventh Hour Bill: 7 Digital Video Signs for CCRAland

Council's closing sessions always contain legislative surprises. This year it's Bill 160461  authorizing digital video billboards at 51 SEPTA stops, seven of which are either in CCRAville or just across the street.  The adjacent picture showing the NE corner of 16th & Market depicts what is proposed for:

 

                Broad & Spruce NE

                Broad and Locust NE

                Broad and Walnut NW

                Broad and Chestnut SW

                Broad and So Penn Sq SW

                Market at  19th

                Market at  22nd

 

The bill emerged from committee two days ago. Because Council suspended the Rules, eliminating a second reading, the vote occurs June 16, Council's last scheduled session. CCRA wrote our  District Council representatives, Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilperson Kenyatta Johnson,  requesting  that the proposal be tabled, noting that  there had been no public outreach even though the proposal  raises any number of issues ranging  from simple aesthetics to the  encroachment of distracting  signage on the public way. Members who wish to weigh in on this bill may contact  Council President Clarke at 215 686 3442darell.clarke@phila.gov whose district more or less includes the area north of Locust or Councilman Kenyatta Johnson 215 686 3412 kenyatta.johnson@phila.gov whose district, generally speaking, lies south of Locust. Two at large council people live near the targeted sites, Allan Domb 215 686 3414/15 allan.domb@phila.gov andHelen Gym 215 686 3420 helen.gym@phila.gov


Moving in the Right Direction

The derelict house at 18th & Delancey has been an eyesore for ages. CCRA shares the frustration of those neighbors who have endured this blight. The Managing Director's office, at the request of Govt. Rel. VP Harvey Sacks, recently talked with L&I Comm'r. David Perri, who reports that the City is in court over the property and that in May the court fined the owner $125,000! (due July 3) The court also required the owner to let L&I into the building for inspection. L&I now classifies the property as "unsafe" but not "imminently dangerous." Comm'r Perri assures CCRA that the City will keep pressing in court for repairs and fines for delay. Next court date is June 22.



June 2, 2016


Sugar Tax Si, Container Tax No


Last week's CCRA survey asked whether respondents favored Mayor Kenney's proposed three cents per ounce sugar in soda tax or the alternative 15 cent tax on containers holding more than 7 ounces of liquids other than a few excepted items such as milk and baby formula.   46 responses (90.2%) favored the sugar tax and only one favored the container tax, while four (7.84%) replied that they did not support either tax. This latest survey followed a March 24 questionnaire which revealed that 62 respondents favored the tax while 12 were in opposition. In the earlier survey 70% of the respondents took the time to comment on the questions raised. In this survey an even higher percentage (79%) took the time to express their thoughts. One proponent of the tax wrote: "This bill is heads you win, tails you win.  It is estimated to better cover the cost of universe pre-k, which will provide better education for children not only in those early years, but down the road after the children have a stronger educational foundation than they would otherwise have.  Alternatively, the tax leads to a reduction in consumption of sugary drink.  Obesity rates and health care costs go down.  It's a win win." Some comments from opponents: "Philadelphians are already excessively taxed"and "Philadelphia is not an island.  Both of these taxes will simply encourage residents to shop outside the city and businesses to locate outside the city.  Philadelphia has many problems, but these taxes will exacerbate them by reinforcing the city's already terrible reputation for taxing."

 

Council will hold Committee hearings on Wed June 8 at 2 pm in Room 400 and the Bill is scheduled for a final vote on Thursday June 16 at 10 am.  CCRA has two Council people: Darrell Clarke's district is basically north of Locust to JFK and Kenyatta Johnson's district is more or less south of Locust .  In addition there are seven at large council people with no assigned districts. Their contact information can be found here.



May 26, 2016


New Survey For You: Sugar Soda Tax vs. Container Tax

 

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown endorses an alternative to the Mayor's suggested 3 cents per ounce Sugar/Soda tax. (Bill 160176). Her suggestion, a tax on drink containers (Bill 160508). Bill 508 assesses a 15 cent tax on every container over seven ounces holding any soft drink, water/flavored water, coffee,  vegetable juice, or energy drink.  The container bill does not tax baby formula, milk products, or fountain drinks sold at restaurants.  


The Councilwoman has stated that "If the goal is to provide a sustainable proposal that will allow for universal pre-K for all, improvements and access to recreation centers for all and community schools for all, then the tax should impact all - from soda to Perrier." The Philadelphia Tribune reports that the proposed container levy would yield "a minimum of $64 million," approximately $30 million less than the soda tax projections.  The Councilwoman's thoughts are set forth in a link received from her office.


Philadelphians for a Fair Future, of which CCRA is a member, characterizes the container tax as "forcing all consumers, especially poor people, to pay the tax on almost every beverage imaginable - water, milk, 100% fruit juices, and other essentials.  By contrast, the Sugary Drinks Tax is a tax that no consumer is forced to pay." The group also notes that the container tax increases the cost of more healthful beverages such as water and fruit juice and encourages sugary beverage consumers to save money by purchasing supersize sugar drinks.


COMPLETE THE ATTACHED SURVEY TO PROVIDE YOUR THOUGHTS. We will present your responses, anonymously, unless directed otherwise, in next week's newsletter.



MAY 12, 2016


Center City Quizzo


Spring has arrived. Time to crack open the Center City District's "State of Center City" annual report. Seventy one pages crammed with facts and figures. A must read for residents of CCRAville. It's also time for our second annual CCD Quizzo contest. Answers are in this link.  

 

1.      The United Kingdom provides the largest number of international visitors to the City - that's been the case since General Howe assumed residency in the 70's (the 1770's) What country provides the second largest contingent of visitors?

 

2.    The populations of Boston and Washington, which are basically identical, are:

 

a.      70% of Philadelphia's population

b.      60% of Philadelphia's population

c.       50% of Philadelphia's population

d.      40% of Philadelphia's population

 

3.      Which area of CCRAland has the highest level of pedestrian activity?

 

a.      1700 block of Walnut

b.      17th and Chestnut intersection

c.       16th and Chestnut intersection  

 

4.      In measurements of annual growth in private (non governmental) wage and salary jobs from 2010 to 2014, the rankings of  Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia were from highest (greatest growth)  to lowest (least growth):

 

a.      Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit.

b.      Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia,

c.       Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia

d.      Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit,  Baltimore

 

5.      In the five years between 2010 and 2015, enrollment in public primary neighborhood catchment area schools ( i.e. non charter schools) has:

 

a.   Decreased by more than 10%

b.   Decreased by between 5 and 10%

c.      Decreased by between 5 and 0%

d.     Increased  less than 5%

e.     Increased more than 5%

 

6.      What percentage of the residents of what the CCD terms "Greater Center City" ( Girard to Tasker, river to river) walk to work?


a.      Between 5 and 10%

b.      Between 10 and 15%

c.       Between 15 and 20%

d.      Between 20 and 25%

e.      Between 25 and 30%

 

7.      What percentage of the residents of what the CCD terms "Greater Center City" (Girard to Tasker, river to river) drive to work?

 

a.      Between 10 and 20%

b.      Between 20% and 30%

c.       Between 30% and 40%

d.      Between 40% and 50%

e.      Between 50% and 60%



APRIL 28, 2016


CCRA Supports Tax on Sugar in Sodas 

  

Last month we surveyed members via this newsletter.  Some 84% of respondents favored  the sugar-soda tax.  With the recommendation of our Gov't Relations Comm., the Board has voted overwhelmingly to support the sugar-soda tax. 

 

Why?  Because 80% of the revenue goes to key neighborhood issues: funding preK for 25,000 children, investing $350 million in parks, rec centers, libraries and the created community schools to serve as neighborhood hubs for social services.  

 

Why?  Because sugar-sodas are bad for you (like everybody's mother said when we were kids). The City Department of Health describes obesity, caused in part by sugary beverages,  as a  "crisis":   On average Philadelphians drink about 45 gallons (carrying 39 pounds of sugar a year). That's enough calories to add 19 lbs of body fat.  That average includes those who don't drink it, so the real average is even higher.  The result? A City where 64% of the adults and 57% of the children(!) are overweight or obese. Drinking sugar-sodas promotes type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. 

 

Why tax only sugary soda?  Because sugar soda is worse.  There's as much sugar in a 12oz can of soda as there is in 3.25 glazed Dunkin donuts.  Or 1 1/2 snickers' bars or almost a full cup of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey.  Or 4 grande lattes.  Sugar sodas are mainlining sugar compared to other "junk" food. 

 

Why?  Because the City  raised real estate tax rates 17.3% since 2010 , piled an extra 2% on the sales tax, and stopped cutting the regressive wage tax, now stuck at 3.92% for residents We've all done our part.  It's sugar soda's turn. 

 

Why?  Because the city cigarette tax worked better than expected.  They said it was the end of the world & it brought in $80 million.  The liquor-by-the-drink tax wasn't the end of the world, either. 

 

Why?  Because it doesn't unduly burden the poor. It's only 36 cents a can.  And it will incentivize grocers to stock healthier items when people drink less sugar soda. 

 

Why?  Because the tax won't tax non-caloric beverages ­- drink Coke Zero or Pepsi Max if you want to drink soda.




APRIL 21, 2016


Drive-by Planning:  The Registered Community Organization (RCO) Regulations

At the Planning Commission's March 15 meeting, the Commission staff requested the Commission's approval of amendments to regulation of the operations of Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) which are empowered by the "new" (2012) zoning code to conduct public hearings as to land use applications. CCRA is an RCO as are the other 20 members of the Crosstown Coalition.

 

The staff's March 15 recommendations are the latest example of the staff's infrequent but alarming use of   "drive-by planning" procedures, planning exercises conducted in the dark and in haste.  The staff plans presented on Tuesday March 15 had been delivered to the Commissioners the preceding   Friday at 3:57 pm (along with 12 other agenda "action items").  But the Commissioners at least had one business day to review the regulations. Not so the subjects of the proposed regulations, the RCOs, who received copies of the amendments 9 days after the meeting on March 24.   At the March 15 meeting the RCO volunteers could provide no citizen input as to plans they had not seen. Not only were the RCOs kept in the dark as to the amended regulations, they were not consulted by the Commission staffers when they prepared these regulations pertaining to RCO procedures. Jane Jacobs, the matriarch of city planning, stated that cities "are created by everybody". On occasions such as last March 15, it appears that Commission staffers adhere to a different credo - that cities are created by planners.

 

Fortunately, the Commissioners deferred their vote until the April meeting, affording RCOs the opportunity to weigh in on the amendments presented by the staff. And, credit where credit is due, many of the Commission staff's recommendations are sensible and appropriate. Even so, we all would be better served by staff procedures in which the community was consulted at the onset of the planning process and where ample time is afforded for examination of proposed plans. 



APRIL 14, 2016


Pew Report in 2 Songs: "Coming Up Roses" & "Stormy Weather"

Spring arrives with the Pew State of the City report which this year sings conflicting tunes - "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Stormy Weather". Looking at the City through rose colored glasses, most Philadelphians (67%) think the City will be a better place to live in 5 years and the same percentage (67%) guess that they will remain in the City during the next 5 - 10 years.  CCRA specific stats show that our neighborhood shines - we are not so well off as the upper crust in the "hills" (Society #1 and Chestnut #2) but, of the 48 zip codes ranked, our two are #3 (19102) and #5 (19103). We are more cosmopolitan, having more than twice as many foreign-born residents and scads more cultural venues.  As for security, our police district ranks the 18thsafest out of 22. Turning to "Stormy Weather": 48% believe the City's schools are "poor", only 5% found them to be "excellent". Poverty consumes 31% of the population, 489,000 people; qualify for food stamps, a number which has increased each year for ten years. For the third straight year, underfunding of the City's employee pension fund has increased. In 2004, the pension was funded at 60%, 20% lower than the 80% rule of thumb funding goal, but a lot better than 2014's 46% funding.Total underfunding exceeds  $5 billion, half again as much revenue as the City expected to receive in 2015-2016.  So smell the roses but remember that umbrella.



MARCH 31, 2016


Members Weigh In On Soda/Sugar Tax

Sure, it  lacks  the statistical reliability  of a Gallup poll. But last week's member survey provided interesting responses to Mayor Kenney's proposed  tax on sugar/soda drinks.   Seventy- four members completed  four questions about the proposed 3 cents per oz. tax  - 62 favored the tax and 12 opposed it.   Asked whether the three cents per ounce levy was "appropriate", "too high", or "too low", 42 replied that it was appropriate, 9 replied that it was too high, while 11 replied that it was too low. Fifty- two respondents wrote narrative comments,  many of which addressed  the rationale for implementing the tax to generate  revenues for  education initiatives  ($256 million for pre kindergarten seats for 25,000 students and 25 "community schools"), $350 million in infrastructure improvements and expenditures for energy efficiency, and  $26 million for the $5 billion  pension deficit. One respondent in favor of the tax wrote: "The Mayor has an ambitious plan for universal pre K and renovation of parks and rec centers. This is a good way to fund it and maybe it will also reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and thus promote good health." A member  opposing the levy stated: "This is a severely regressive tax . . . we give unconscionable tax breaks to developers and affluent buyers of new condos. If we are to have nice things, we need to tax people who have money, not those who are struggling, no matter what we think of their personal health." 


Let There Be Light: CCRA Pioneers LED Street Fixtures

The CCRA Streets Committee's chair, traffic engineer Frank Montgomery, and committee members (especially David Rose, Walter Spencer, Maggie Mund, and Vivian Seltzer) partnered with the City's Streets Department to implement a Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development grant to CCRA for  21st Century LED street lights. Installations so far are located along 20th Street near Spruce Street, and parts of Naudain and Bonsall Streets. With well over a 1,000 lights in varying styles (upwards of 20 types) to be upgraded in our district alone, this grant constitutes a first step towards an eventual  goal of implementing LED fixtures citywide so that all neighborhoods enjoy a brighter, "cleaner", white light with improved aesthetics, energy efficiency and safety.




MARCH 24, 2016


Complete Member Survey on Soda Sugar Tax

Mayor Kenney's budget address proposed ambitious new programs -  the most expensive proposals included  education initiatives  (pre kindergarten seats for 25,000 students at a cost of $256 million and 25 "community" schools), $350 million in infrastructure improvements, expenditures for energy efficiency and  $26 million for the $5 billion  pension deficit. Acknowledging the painful truth that what government provides in benefits it must pay for via taxes, the Mayor proposed Bill 160176, a three cent per ounce tax on non alcoholic sweetened beverages to be levied on distributors, not retailers. Enclosed are the  portion of the Mayor's  budget message addressing  this soda/sugar levy as well as the entire budget message  Criticism of the proposal from  business and union interests, such as an op ed piece in the Philadelphia Business Journal, have been prompt and strident.  


Take a bit of time to read the Mayor's proposal and the response from the business community THEN COMPLETE THE ATTACHED FOUR-QUESTION SURVEY TO PROVIDE YOUR THOUGHTS. We will present your responses, anonymously  unless directed otherwise,  in next week's newsletter. 


20% CCRA Discount: Crow & Pitcher and Raven Lounge

The Crow &The Pitcher, 267 So. 19th, and the Raven Lounge, 1718 Sansom, inaugural members of CCRA's Dine With Us Program, are offering 20% discounts to CCRAers who show current membership cards.  Look for additional participating  restaurants in the coming months and check out the Merchant Discounts tab  www.centercityresidents.org for further member benefits.



Newest CCRA Perk - Bala Golf Club: Visit Open House Wed., 3/30, 6-8 pm, 2200 Belmont Ave.

Bala Golf Club, situated 12 minutes from Center City, is hosting a prospective member  open house Wed., March 30, 6 - 8 pm, and,will waive the $175 application fee for any CCRA member who signs up at Bala in 2016. Bala's William S. Flynn designed golf course features secluded rolling countryside, towering pines, meandering creeks and stunning wildlife which all work to make the sandtraps bearable. The Club's casual Grill Room and Patio are open daily for lunch, dinner and drinks. Fine dining is served in the Member Dining Room on Wednesday-Saturday evenings so the facility, with a capacity of up to 200,  is ideal for corporate meetings, galas, mitzvah celebrations, weddings, and anniversaries. Bala is also home to a bustling casual and competitive Bridge community. For more information visit www.balagolfclub.com or contact Membership Director Mike Viscusi, membership@balagolfclub.com or 215-220-0746.



Bill Re Commercial Mixed Use Zoning 

Councilman Mark Squilla's bill 160227 requires first floor commercial uses in multifamily buildings zoned Commercial Mixed Use, CMX-3, a category which fosters low rise commercial corridors containing first floor shops with apartments above - North 2nd Street in Northern Liberties or the 4th Street Fabric row in Queen Village.  Currently, CMX-3 regulations allow but do not require first floor commercial. Critics contend that developers are incentivized to take advantage of the CMX 3 commercial height, open space and parking rules to build oversized townhouses with undersized yards instead of placing town homes in areas zoned for single family residential. The CMX 3 properties in our neighborhood are depicted on the linkedzoning map. If you have thoughts about the bill, let us know at centercity@centercityresidents.org.  



MARCH 17, 2016


Report on Public Parking: Costs Up, Number of Spaces Down


Every five years, the Planning Commission issues a report analyzing off street parking available to the general public in Center City. The 2015 analysis shows there are 46,400 parking spaces in the study area (river to river, Spring Garden to South Street). About a quarter of the spaces, 26.6 %, are situated in the west of Broad area which subsumes our community [Market West  (4,278), Penn Center (4,927)  and Rittenhouse Square (3,143)].


The  CCRA neighborhood plan, published in 2006,  predicted the gradual disappearance of the surface lots and two storey garages that dotted our  community in the years before the recession. That prediction has come to pass - consider the townhouse developments on three Lombard Street surface lots and the replacement of two  garages on Rittenhouse Square Street. So it is no surprise that, over the past five years, in this larger study area:

  • The number of spaces  has decreased 7.2%, a trend which presumably accounts for
  • A 23% increase in fees a figure which includes a 2.5% parking tax effective July 2015. The fee increases were particularly dramatic in our community. Of the 13 parking submarkets studied, two  in our area (Market West, Penn Center) ranked as the first and second most expensive and  the Rittenhouse Square submarket was close behind,  occupying the fifth most expensive slot.

The report noted the impact of "Early Bird" rates which  "heavily favor commuters over those parking for a couple of hours", calculating that, "On average, it is only 32 cents more expensive to park for 8 to 9 hours . . .than to park for just one hour . . . parking for two hours costs $6.67 more than to park all day as a commuter." The result: "80% of weekday customers are commuters taking advantage of a discounted early bird rate or a monthly pass".  Because of the Early Bird pricing favoring all day commuter customers, Philadelphia daily parking rates ranked lowest among ten cities but our hourly rates ranked fourth.

 

The report concludes that in the future "the management of the city's parking resources will become increasingly critical" but falls short of calling for an overall parking policy. Currently, parking regulations are fabricated by various agencies which are not guided by central planning principles.  The Crosstown Coalition's parking committee chaired by CCRAer Bill West, after analyzing more than 2800 responses to its parking questionnaire, is recommending that the City convene a group of stakeholders to assemble a comprehensive parking policy. 



Rittenhouse Stabbing

A 24 year-old from Bucks County, who was bar-hopping with friends for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations, was stabbed to death near Rittenhouse Square around 3 AM Sunday morning.  The authorities have charged a 40-year-old amputee veteran from Delaware County.  The facts concerning the altercation are unknown at present.  We will not speculate.  All we know, however, is that this is a tragedy for all involved: a young man is dead, a wounded veteran is charged, and our community is grieved. 




MARCH 10, 2016


CCRA Opposition Rushed Realty Tax Resolution Succeeds 

We hope that CCRA's 11th hour letter influenced Council's decision to forego or postpone a vote on Resolution 160157 saying "yes but" to a Pennsylvania Constitutional amendment to enable commercial property to be taxed at a higher rate than residential property.  As written, the amendment requires the extra tax on commercial properties to be used to reduce the City's wage/business taxes.  The purpose of the amendment is to shift taxes from incomes (personal or business) to property, which should increase economic growth in the City.  A broad coalition of commercial interests the Committee of Seventy, and Mayor Kenney support the constitutional amendment with the business/wage tax reduction.  

 Council's resolution declared different commercial/residential property taxes rates to be "vitally important" BUT opposed  the linkage of a wage/business tax reduction  and instead urged that the City be given free discretion to allocate the increased property tax funds.  CCRA agrees that "In a logical world", Philadelphia doesn't need Harrisburg to tell it how to spend money - but observes that the Resolution's  elimination of the wage/business tax reduction  makes the proposition less likely to succeed in Harrisburg. 

 

Council introduced its resolution less two weeks before the vote had been scheduled.  This doesn't give the public - including CCRA - enough time to respond thoughtfully to the proposal. The CCRA Government Relations committee had to convene an emergency meeting and delivered its recommendation to our board two days before it met and leaving us a mere 24 hours to prepare and deliver the letter to Council and arrange to testify at Council.  With important matters, like this resolution, we'd encourage City Council to build in more time for meaningful public comment.  We are all on the same Philadelphia team.  


MARCH 3, 2016


2122 Locust Fire

L&I now informs that all 4 walls of the structure (other than the destroyed side and back of the fourth floor) are sound and should remain.


Local Merchant Spotlight:  Doobies at 22nd & Lombard, NW Corner


Local Merchant Spotlight.  Doobies at 22nd & Lombard, NW corner.  Doobies is a family owned bar that's been in business since 1976.  The owner, Patti, can be found there most nights.  Its well curated draft selection, kitchen menu, and relaxed, bohemian atmosphere as well as its strong support for animal welfare causes recently earned it a place on Philly Mag's Best Dive Bar list.  It's a great place for neighbor to meet neighbor.  (If you have a local business you are fond of, please email us so we can spotlight them.) 




FEBRUARY 25, 2016


15th & Locust Shooting Incident

Captain Convery, of the 9th district, came in person to speak at last week's Rittenhouse Nuisance Taskforce.  The shooting was an outgrowth of drug trade in that area.  The shooter was either trying to rob the victims or to encourage them to relocate their business.  The police have a suspect, though not in custody.  Without going into details (because that would defeat the purpose), police presence is being significantly stepped up in the area to stamp out the trade in unlicensed pharmaceuticals.  We are grateful to Captain Convery for his personal attention on this. If you see something going on in the vicinity of 15th & Locust Sts., call 911 and report it.  This needs to stop now.  Your 911 calls are a part of the solution.


2122 Locust Fire Update

Word from L&I reports that the front facade of the burned building is to be salvaged while the rear will have to be completely rebuilt from the ground up.



FEBRUARY 18, 2016


PHILLY IS #1 

Philadelphia tops Lonely Planet's 2016 "Best in US" list. www.lonelyplanet.com/best-in-us



CRIME IN CENTER CITY

At 1:00 AM Monday-Tuesday (2/15-2/16), an assailant attacked two men at 15th & Locust.  One victim was shot in the arm, leaving him in critical condition from blood loss.  Previously, CCRA had heard that 15th & Locust was hosting drug dealers in the late evening.  Even before the shooting, CCRA had reached out to the Rittenhouse Nuisance Task Force - a state/city interagency group, shepherded by Sen. Farnese's office, addressing quality of life issues in our neighborhood - to get 15th & Locust on the radar.  The RNTF is to meet the day this newsletter circulates, so we cannot apprise you further of the governmental response. We can say that the shooting was drug-related on all sides.   It goes without saying that CCRA has been and is pushing for the police and other city departments to fix this corner ASAP. 

 

While on the subject, we've been asked why CCRA no longer provides a monthly crime report with this email.  There are two reasons.  First, CCRA takes its information from the Ninth Police District's website: http://philapolice9th.weebly.com/crime-reports.html, which you can access.  Second, the newspapers reported high-profile crimes in CCRA territory that did not seem to appear on that website (presumably because those crimes were investigated by other police units).  CCRA didn't want to appear to omit crimes of which our readers would be aware. 



(MORE) CRANES OVER PHILLY

The Inquirer recently reported on development plans for the Marketplace Design Center, including vertical additions bringing the structure to 22 stories.  You can see it here for yourself.   The renderings don't include Robert Wyland's whale mural, which has graced the side of the building for the last 23 years.  Bistro San Tropez, the top floor bar & restaurant, will close on February 27.  Excellent food with magnificent views of the Schuylkill - a hidden gem and a true only-in-Philly experience.  If you haven't been, go while you can.  The chef is reportedly seeking a new location - with a view, we hope. 


FEBRUARY 11, 2016


KEEP PHILLY PHUNKY! SHOP LOCAL

Center City has changed a lot in the last 25+ years.  In many ways, it's better - cleaner, safer, busier, more prosperous.  Walnut St. hosts stores that you'd see on Newbury St., or Michigan Ave., or Fifth Ave., or Rodeo Drive.  While we're glad to see these important national retailers come to town, we must recognize the importance of our local merchants.  Local Center City merchants have contributed mightily to our neighborhood, its unique character and its burgeoning success.  Our neighborhood is better now because local merchants were here first - some even decades ago, when people were leaving cities for dead.  Down below (a page-down or two) is a list of local merchants who support CCRA and give discounts to you, our members.  Please scroll down.  Support them.  Keep Philadelphia Phunky!


FEBRUARY 4, 2016


WEEKLY "WHAT'S NEW" EMAIL TO CIRCULATE ON THURSDAYS

Thursday!  Yes, it's Thursday, February 4.  Not Friday, but Thursday.  And you are receiving CCRA's Weekly Newsletter: What's New in the Neighborhood today, not tomorrow.  Through the centuries, many great events have happened on February 4, including (without limitation):   In 211, Roman Emperor Septimius Severus died in what is now York, England, preparing to make war on the Scots (the Scots won).  In 1789, George Washington was unanimously elected the first President of the United States.  In 1846, Mormon pioneers left their Illinois settlement to begin their trek to Utah.  In 1945, the Yalta conference began.  In 1974, Patti Hearst was kidnapped.  And in 2004, Facebook was founded. 

 

Today, CCRA adds to the list of important events occurring on February 4:  we're moving our weekly email to Thursdays.  Before, this email has been circulating on Fridays, often late in the afternoon.  This is not as effective as it could be.  As a general matter, Friday evening is for better things than reading emails.  We are moving the email to Thursdays in hopes of increasing readership and providing more timely information to our readers.



JANUARY 29, 2016


CROSSTOWN COALITION  ISSUES  ANNUAL REPORT 

The Crosstown Coalition, which commenced in 2008 as an informal federation of civics, finished its first full year as an incorporated civic institution by issuing a 28 page  Annual Report. The most interesting portions may be the two appendices  containing the answers to the Crosstown's 16 item questionnaire  addressed to the mayoral and council candidates in last Spring's primary.  Candidate  Kenney's answers suggest that the new administration will deal with the underassessment of real property as distinguished from construction/improvements, an adjustment which could lead to higher bills for those benefiting from the ten year tax abatement where taxes are abated on improvements but not real property.  Kenny also favors shifting revenues away from business taxes and towards realty taxes,  an approach which he believes will promote business/job growth.  The report also details Coalition accomplishments - last March's education summit where 120 people gathered to share ideas and strategies on the Friends of Neighborhood Schools movement and the Crosstown's partnering activities with the development community which led to substantial revisions on two major pieces of land use legislation, the Center City Overlay and the Planning and Development reorganization bill. At a Crosstown social held January 19, Joe Schiavo, chair of the Zoning and Land Use Committee captured the thoughts of  Coalition activists when he stated: "This year, our first year,  we spent our energy reacting  to legislation and, while our efforts led to improvements in any number of bills, we were consumed by playing defense. In  2016, we will strive to be more proactive and less reactive."


JANUARY 22, 2016


THE FIRE AT LOCUST & VAN PELT

There was a horrible fire last Tuesday night, as most of you know.  It destroyed a 21 unit apartment building, 2122 Locust situated on the southwest corner of Locust & Van Pelt (the north south street between 21st and 22nd). It also displaced residents in the neighboring apartment building, 2126 Locust.  Since Tuesday night, we have worked to see how we could help the victims of this fire.  We have spoken to representatives of the Red Cross, the realty firms managing the two buildings, Trinity Memorial Church (which housed evacuees on the evening of the fire)  staffers of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, and three of the displaced residents of 2122 Locust.   From what we have been able to learn, all the evacuated tenants have a roof over their head and their immediate needs are being met.  Many have lost all their material possessions.  The Red Cross expressed appreciation for CCRA's outreach and suggested that it might later call upon our membership network to supplement its relief efforts for this fire.  To our knowledge, no general fund has been established to assist the victims of this fire (in part because no agency has the contact information for all the displaced tenants) although Congregation Beth Zion Beth Israel has issued a request for funds to support a congregation member, whose identity is being kept confidential.  Councilman Johnson's office proposes to partner with CCRA on a community forum regarding this fire, in particular, and fire safety, in general.  We will inform you when scheduling is finalized.  We will continue our efforts and, as ways to help the fire victims become known, we will let you know how you can help. 



JANUARY 15, 2016


CCRA & NEIGHBOR STAKEHOLDER GROUP PARTNER ON 1911 WALNUT HIGH RISE

The CCRA Board, at its January 12 meeting, voted to join in the formation of a neighborhood stakeholders group with respect to 1911 Walnut St (the L shaped  vacant lot on the north west corner of  Rittenhouse Square which abuts the north side of Walnut the south side of Sansom,  and the east side of 20th Street ).   The neighborhood stakeholders group will be composed of building residents' associations and institutions near the project.  CCRA encourages the most effective and broadest possible community input into the development of this important location.  All of us share a common goal: gracing Rittenhouse Square with a beautiful and successful new building that will compliment, complement & enhance our neighborhood.  Because CCRA -- as a voice for neighbors near and far -- should not be bound by votes  of the other group members (in the very unlikely event that near neighbors should agree on something detrimental to far neighbors), its role will be as "observer" with the stakeholder group (though we intend to be a vigorous champion of all area residents and this process). Recognizing that not everyone agrees on what beautiful is, the group is retaining  noted architect Cecil Baker (who worked with a similar group on the Pearl Properties building at the Boyd Theater site and a former member of the zoning committee for Wash West Civic Ass'n), to facilitate and coordinate input and advise as to the merits and feasibility of alternative designs.


JANUARY 8, 2016


MEET METER UP - A GIFT FROM THOSE JOLLY PARKING AUTHORITY FOLKS

We all know the Parking Grinch who delights in leaving  notes under windshield wiper blades BUT, yes Virginia, there is a Parking Santa. And, Virginia,  Parking Santa left something under the community tree this year -  Meter Up,  a smart phone app that buys meter time AND enables the electronic purchase of supplemental time when the meter is about to expire.

 

Program registrants provide license plate numbers, an email address and credit card info. In return they receive an app which enables parkers to buy time via a non paper digital transaction. No need to place a printout on the dashboard. Enforcement officers view the meter payment when they key in the license plate numbers. 

 

The program offers two advantages over the status quo:

  • AN EXPIRATION REMINDER - Seven minutes before the purchased time expires, MeterUP asks the registrant via cellphone whether they wish to purchase more time. 
  • REMOTE ELECTRONIC TIME EXTENSION - Meter Up registrants who wish to extend time can do so, remotely via their cell phone, but it costs more. In zones that charge $2.50 an hour for the first two hours ($5 for two hours), the next two hours will double in cost to $5 per hour ($10 for two hours). The next two hours (hours five and six) will cost $7.50 per hour, or $15 for two hours. In other words, first two hours is X ($5). Second two hours is 2X ($10). Third two hours is 3X ($15). So you can spend six hours at the meter, but it will cost you $30.

Presently the program covers a large part of Center City: 4th Street to 20th Street, and Arch to Locust. It is also being installed in a few other areas, such as a section of Delaware Avenue and the Torresdale Railroad Station Lot. If the shakedown cruise goes well, the plan is to extend the program to meters throughout the city.


PPA has a good set of FAQs on its website.


MeterUP also has its own website:  http://meterup.xyz/There's a useful two-minute instructional video at the bottom of the front page.



DECEMBER 18, 2015


HI RISE PLANS FOR RITT SQ. SITE - THREE TIMES A CHARM?

Twice in the past we have described the romances of 1911 Walnut, the comely L shaped  plot on Rittenhouse Square's northwest corner fronting on the north side of Walnut, the south side of Sansom and the east side of 20th street. Past suitorsare from central casting:  the proverbial knight in shining armor, Castleway, a Dublin developer, and a down to earth boy next door type, Toll Brothers. The latest squire is Tennessee based Southern Land Company, think Clarke Gable/Vivian Leigh. He's proposing a glass clad residential tower of at least 49 stories (559 feet) and as much as 57 stories (618 feet). Two tenant entrances are planned on Walnut -- one for as many as 100 condo units occupying  the tower's  top floors and a second for as many as 300 rental tenants located in the lower floors. Also in the package, 50,000 to 60,000 sq. ft of retail  situated in a  three story podium rising 65 feet from the sidewalk topped off with a large outdoor roofdeck amenities area for building occupants. Retail entrances will front on Walnut, Sansom,  and 20th.  Automobiles will access the site from Sansom Street into robotic underground parking for approximately 270 vehicles.  Loading/truck traffic will enter from 20th Street into Moravian, the east west alley just north of La Colombe that runs from 19th to 20th. The site features a turn around area so that trucks need not back in or out.  Of the three historic buildings on the north side of Sansom, Southern proposes to demolish two - the Warwick Apartments and the former Oliver Bair Funeral Home -and save the façade of the Rittenhouse Coffee Shop while rebuilding its interior.

 

As with most betrothals, consent is needed -   approval to change the zoning from CMX (Commercial Mixed Use) 4 which has a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 500 to CMX 5 with an FAR of 1200 to 1600 depending upon bonuses for features such as public art and underground parking. With a CMX 4  FAR of 500, the permissible square footage of the construction would be five times the square footage of the parcel, for CMX 5, the square footage of the would be a minimum of 12 times the lot's footage. , To obtain the zoning change or "variance",  Southern  must first appear before a community meeting convened by CCRA as the Registered Community Organization and then seek approval  from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.  The community meeting process will be triggered by Southern's application to Licenses and Inspections for a building permit, a step which has yet to occur. 



DECEMBER 11, 2015


PARKING SURVEY: 383 RESPONSES IN 48 HRS FROM BHODDISATTVA AND THE REST OF US

The people have spoken - 383 responded in a 48-hour period to a Crosstown Coalition parking survey transmitted to 1100 addresses. 81 %  of the respondents reside in the three CCRA zips. Yes, the sampling metrics are unscientific. For example, 78% of the respondents were car owners (34% used cars for commuting) though the census figures show that less than half  of the residents in these zips own cars. But sampling, smampling, many responses were so dramatic that there has to be some truth here. When is on street parking tightest? The evenings are worse than the days - 51% rated parking as very/extremely tight on weekdays but for weekday evenings that figure jumped to 84%, a 63% increase. Parking  on weekend days? Not so bad. Only 46% found it very/extremely tight. Want to park on a weekend evening? Fuggetaboutit.  82% found it very/extremely tight, a 79% bump as compared to weekend day difficulty. Knowing that the question was the transit equivalent of the classic querry as to  who is  buried in Grant's Tomb, we asked what's the most important parking problem? The predictable response, "the length of time it takes to find a parking space," bested the runner up choice by 30%.

 

What of  our more enlightened neighbors, more than 50% of our population - the bodhisattva  who  do not own cars?  When they are not walking they are on SEPTA - 92.65%  walk regularly and 92.65%  use public transit regularly (including 53% who travel underground on the Market/Broad subway lines). They manage quite well, thank you, without spending time behind the wheel. 53% report never renting a car while 30% do so only several times a year. When they do enter a car, it's a taxi or Uber - 74%  use taxis and 32% use Uber regularly. 24% are closet Scandinavians, using personal bikes (18%) and Indego (6%).

 

We are still looking for more responses. To participate in the survey, click here. And we also need volunteers for inventorying parking spaces.  If you are game, email CCRA. 



DECEMBER 4, 2015


PEW ANALYZES PHILLY ADDITOOD

The recent Pew Trust Report " A New Way of Looking at Philadelphians" examines our  "addytood", the second entry in Philly Talk's  dictionary written for outlanders not raised on "Skookl wooder".  Pew conducted telephone interviews of 1,603 residents ("sixteen hunnert and tree" in Philly Talk) and concluded that all 1.6 million of us, fall into four groups:

  • The Dissatisfied - 30 %  are disenchanted with Philly government and not optimistic about the City's prospects. These folks are not only not surprised by the Iggle' s collapse, they expected it.
  • The Die Hard Loyalists - 25%, many of whom are Philadelphia lifers,  are committed to the City and see a bright Philadelphia future.  DHL football fans see the  glass as  overflowing and  regard the Birds as a lock for the NFC East.
  • The Uncommitted Skeptics - 25%  are ambivalent about the City's direction. UCS types are waiting for next year'sNFL draft and are sitting it out for 2015
  • Enthusiastic Urbanists - 19%, including a lot of newcomers, are excited about the City's recent successes. EU  Iggles are still enthused about Chip Kelly's hurry up offense.

Where do you stand? Take the survey and find out. It's accurate - a Cowboys fan we know  took the survey. The result. He's an "uncommitted skeptic". QED.

 

What's the first entry in the Philly Talk dictionary? "Aaeg" as in " I wen dahnashure to Aaeg Harbor."



NOVEMBER 20, 2015


BILL 150745: WHY WE SHOULD RED LIGHT THE GREEN ROOFS BILL

Green roofs are laudable, they diminish  sewer system runoff and their cooler surfaces drive down summer temperatures. Not so  Bill 150745 which twists the spirit of the zoning code by  providing building density bonuses in exchange for green roof developments. The Zoning Code density specifications were hammered out between communities and developers over four long years. The Code's bonus system , also a product of the same four year process, accords  increased density for developments which provide benefits for the impacted communities. In other words, the Code encourages fair trades -  the neighbors  receive  underground parking or public art and the builder receives permits to build  higher or denser structures.

 

Bill 150475's  density bonus does not offer the type of trade off sanctioned by the Zoning Code, The Bill's density bonus  visits downsides on the locally affected block faces ( more people, cars, traffic and trash) but the  upsides are city wide (less water in the City's drainage system, lower ambient temperatures in the summer).  150475 asks the neighbors next door to the supersized green roof structure to exchange a locally diminished quality of life so that the City as a whole can benefit,

 

What's the fix?  If green roofs are to be incentivized, green roof buildings should get a break on the City's storm water management service charge. You scratch my back (less storm water runoff) I'll  scratch yours (lower storm water management bills).

 

The green roof/density trade-off is not the Bill's only defect, just its most glaring deficiency. Like too many Council bills, 150475 does not address enforcement. The bill provides no penalties where  a green roof is  replaced with a roof deck. Nor does the Bill fund an inspection process, extra L and I employees to investigate whether bonus buildings contain green roofs.  Currently, two years after the Salvation Army tragedy, L and I can't even comply with its internal guidelines for supervising demolitions. Need more?   If Bill 150475 were passed,  developers could double dip by taking the 150475 density bonus AND an existing  bonus allowing for a one square foot reduction of parking lot landscaping in exchange for each square foot of green roof.  So under 150475 the community not only gets more density, it gets less neighborhood greenery.  Well at least the Bill should get high grades for diminishing  in a bonused building's water run off. Not  really. Bonuses are provided where 60% of the roof surface is green. When I went to school, a 60 was passing, but just barely.

 

The idea behind 150475 is laudable,  the execution is lacking. The bill should be sent back to the drawing board.  And when it is redrafted, shouldn't there be a special bonus  favoring resident accessible green roofs, high rise mini parks which diminish the burden on community parks and playgrounds?

 

If you wish to weigh in on Bill 150475, its sponsor is Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown (215-686-3438) who has, in the past, been receptive to community input.  



NOVEMBER 13, 2015


COMMUNITY MEETING WED 11/18 7 PM, 2110 CHESTNUT  RE 19TH & CHESTNUT  HIGH RISE AT BOYD THEATER SITE

Plans for a mixed residential/ commercial (ground and second floors) development to be erected near the corner of 19th and Chestnut will be presented at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion. The 54,782 sq.ft.  parcel has frontages on 19th Street, 20th Street, Chestnut Street and Sansom Street. Entry to a 32 story residential tower, oriented on a north south axis, will be through a landscaped courtyard facing 19th Street. The two story lobby leads directly up to the second floor amenity area which has a large outdoor terrace space. The 32 story tower will include:

  • 250 residential units at floors 3 through 32 many of which have terraces or balconies;
  • Residential lobby, retail, trash and loading at the first floor;
  • Parking for 117 cars at the cellar level.

There will be retail space along Sansom Street,  on 19th Street and in the former Boyd Theater Lobby, as well in the Alexander building at the corner of 19th and Chestnut Streets, the former Qdoba restaurant location.


All vehicle access will be from 20th Street. A curb cut on 20th situated at the current parking lot on the east side of the street will provide access to a ramp going down to the Parking Garage. This same curb cut will provide entry to a grade level loading area designed so that 32-foot trucks may turn around inside the loading dock so that no trucks will need to back into or out of 20th Street.


The site is zoned CMX-4, Center City Commercial Mixed-Use. The project has been designed within the zoning requirements so that it may be built "as of right" without any further plan approvals. The community meeting is part of the Civic Design Review process which requires proponents of large scale developments to solicit design input from adjacent communities and, further, to present their Plans for review by a 7 person Civic Design Review panel containing one representative from the affected Registered Community Organization, in this case, CCRA. This Design Review process is advisory only and developers are not bound by the recommendations of either the community or the CDR panel. The CDR committee meets at 1 pm on Tues Nov 24 on the 18th floor of 1515 Arch St - northeast corner of 16th and the Parkway.  

 

19th + Chestnut was designed by Cecil Baker & Partners Architecture in collaboration with the Developer and a consortium of stakeholders in four nearby high rises (Kate's Place The Plaza, William Penn  House,  and 1920 Chestnut). 



CCRA NIXES NO STUDENT BILL: 11TH  HOUR AMENDMENT OFFERED

At its November 10 meeting the CCRA Board voted to reject the original version of Bill 150649 which prohibited the use of residential properties for rental to full time undergraduate students under 23 years of age. The Association has since received two alternative versions of the bill:

  1. The first revision delivered late last week prohibits "Housing, not owner-occupied, advertised only for and rented only tostudents"
  2. The second revision prohibits "Housing, not owner-occupied,rented only to students  or the marketing of which include the phrases student housing, student living, student apartments, or other such terms suggesting rentals are available only to students or is directed primarily to student."

Although the latest version of the bill was only delivered this afternoon at 3 pm, the bill remains on  the Rules Committee agenda for Monday Nov 16th at 10 am in RM 400 City Hall. CCRA will request that the matter be deferred until the December Rules Committee hearing so that the Association may take stock of the revised language.  



NOVEMBER 6, 2015

WISDOM OF THE CROWD RE STUDENT RENTAL LAW: DENSITY LIMITS YES: STUDENT PROSCRIPTION NO

69 readers responded to the electronic questionnaire distributed via last week's newsletter pertaining to Bill 150649 which creates a  16 square block zoning overlay (17th to 21st, Walnut to Spruce) prohibiting:

                 

(.1) Rooming houses;

(.2) Boarding houses;

(.3) Fraternity and sorority houses;

(.4) Housing, not owner-occupied, for "students" (defined as  "any person under the age of twenty-three (23) years enrolled full-time in a college or university undergraduate degree program ")

 

The wisdom of the crowd which participated in the electronic survey:

  • 43 opposed Bill 150649 as drafted while 18 favored it.
  • 36 thought that student presence in the neighborhood was not a problem now while 12 found student presence a current problem.
  • 34 thought that the two garage to residential conversions on the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Square Street might create quality of life issues while 24 disagreed.
  • 42 were opposed to legislation restricting rentals by age while 9 favored such legislation.
  • 41 were opposed to legislation restricting rentals by student status while 16 favored such legislation.
  • 44 were in favor of the provisions prohibiting rooming, boarding and fraternity/sorority houses while 13 opposed this provision.
  • 42 favored legislation which would limit density as a way to address the issues presented by the two garage to residential conversions on the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Square Street while 15 would not favor such an approach.   

Of the 69 respondents to the questionnaire, 21 live in the overlay area and three more live on the southern side of Spruce, just beyond the overlay's southern boundary on the north side of Spruce.

 

The questionnaire tallies were in line with the audience poll conducted at the CCRA sponsored October 27 meeting re Bill 140569. Thirty one people raised their hands in opposition to legislation barring rentals to students while 10 voted in favor of the proposition.  Forty six hands were raised in favor of addressing the issue via density legislation while two attendees opposed a density limitation approach. Asked whether the City should do something or do nothing, 40 hands were raised in favor of doing something while 14 favored " do nothing."  

 

More equivocal replies were received from the 39 questionnaire respondents attending the October 27 public meeting, 30 of whom lived within the 16 square block overlay.  In this sample, there was an even split on the merits of the current legislation and while most respondents opposed rental limitations by age and student status, the margins were less dramatic.



OCTOBER 30, 2015


ANSWER SURVEY RE STUDENT RENTAL LAW

THIS SURVEY:  We are requesting that members complete a survey regarding City Council Bill 150649.  

Responses without a name and address will not be counted. Please respond by Thursday Nov 5 at 5 pm.


THE BILL:  150649  creates an overlay area for residentially zoned properties in the area between the north side of Walnut street, the east side of 17th street, the south side of Spruce street, and the west side of 21st street where the following uses are prohibited:

 

(.1) Rooming houses;

(.2) Boarding houses;

(.3) Fraternity and sorority houses;

(.4) Housing, not owner-occupied, for "students" (as defined as  

"any person under the age of twenty-three (23) years enrolled full-time in a college or university undergraduate degree program "

 

THE BACKGROUND: Council President Clarke introduced the bill to address concerns of neighbors regarding conversions of two garages to multi-unit residential structures at 2023 (The Horsehead garage) and 2028 Rittenhouse Square Street.  The current zoning code allows 7 units at 2023 and 13 units at 2028, with 3 bedrooms for each unit, for a total occupancy of 60.  These added dwellings easily double the population of the block, which is otherwise dominated by single family homes zoned RM-1 (residential multifamily). 


DENSITY CONTROL AS ALTERNATIVE APPROACH:  CCRA representatives had proposed that instead of barring renters by age and student status, the neighbors' concerns could be addressed by legislation controlling density per unit. 



OCTOBER 23, 2015


PUBLIC  MTG RE STUDENT RENTAL LAW : TUES 10/27 6 PM 2111 SANSOM

CCRA will seek public comment for feedback to the CCRA board on City Council Bill 150649 which applies to the area between 17th and 21st, Walnut to Spruce and excludes the following uses from residentially zoned properties:

 

(.1) Rooming houses;

(.2) Boarding houses;

(.3) Fraternity and sorority houses;

                         (.4) Housing, not owner-occupied, for"students" defined in the Code as "any person under the age of twenty-three (23) years enrolled full-time in a college or university undergraduate degree program."


Council President Clarke introduced the bill to address concerns of neighbors regarding conversions of two garages to multi-unit residential structures on the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Square Street - the garages at 2023 (The Horsehead garage) and 2028 Rittenhouse Square Street. The current zoning code allows 7 units at 2023 and 13 units at 2028, with 3 bedrooms for each unit, for a total occupancy of 60.  (Neighbors suggest that the developer is including unlawful additional bed rooms.)  These added dwellings easily double the population of the block, which is otherwise dominated by single family homes zoned RM-1 (residential multifamily). 


At a meeting on October 13 of CCRA representatives with the residents of the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Square Street in the Council President's office, the neighbors agreed that their concerns could be addressed by legislation that excludes the following uses from residentially zoned properties (the language is in rough draft):


(.1) Group living other than temporary overnight housing for homeless people and personal care homes [i.e., supportive housing & assisted living]


(.2) Multi-unit occupancy housing where the average number of rooms in a building occupied as bedrooms exceeds 2 per unit.


Council President Clarke's staff is currently suggesting legislation providing that students might not occupy more than 40% of the units in a building  but has not supplied  an amended version of the Bill so the only proposal on the table is the current language prohibiting rentals to full time undergrad students under 23 years of age.


Bill 150649 is scheduled for a Council Rules Committee hearing  at which the public may testify on Monday November 16 at 10 am in Room 400 City Hall.



OCTOBER 16, 2015

MEETING RE STUDENT RENTAL LAW: TUES, 10/27, 6PM 2111 SANSOM

CCRA will hold a meeting for public comment on City Council Bill150649 which applies to the area between 17th and 21st, Walnut to Spruce and excludes the following uses from residentially zoned properties:

 

(.1) Rooming houses;

(.2) Boarding houses;

(.3) Fraternity and sorority houses;

(.4) Housing, not owner-occupied, for students (as defined

 by § 14-203(325)


"Student" is defined in the Code as "any person under the age of twenty-three (23) years enrolled full-time in a college or university undergraduate degree program "


Council President Clarke introduced the bill to address concerns of neighbors regarding conversions of two garages to multi-unit residential structures on the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Square Street - the garages at 2023 and 2028 Rittenhouse Square Street. The current zoning code allows as many as 7 units at 2023 and 13 units at 2028, with 3 bedrooms for each unit, for a total occupancy of 60.  (Neighbors suggest that the developer is including unlawful additional bed rooms.)  These added dwellings easily double the population of the block, which is otherwise dominated by single family homes. 


At a meeting  this Tuesday of CCRA representatives with the residents of the block  in the Council President's office, the neighbors agreed that their concerns could be addressed by legislation that excludes the following uses from residentially zoned properties (the language is in rough draft):


(.1) Group living other than temporary overnight housing for homeless people and personal care homes [i.e., supportive housing & assisted living]


(.2) Multi-unit occupancy housing where the average number of rooms in a building occupied as bedrooms exceeds 2 per unit.


The Council President Clarke's staff agreed to work on alternative approaches.


Bill 150649 is scheduled for a Council Rules Committee hearing at 10 am on Monday, November 16, in room 400 City Hall. 



OCTOBER 9, 2015

CCRA SCOOPS INKY ON PENN STATE ICE CREAM

Thursday's Inquirer headlined Penn State's  iconic (iconeic?) ice cream shop, the Creamery,  BUT the Inky missed the BIG STORY: Forget Happy Valley, authentic Penn State Creamery flavors  have been available in our backyard since last April's grand opening  at Ventuno2111 Chestnut (next to Mix, across the street from Caffeination). Twelve fav flavors churned at State College are for sale, including Peach Paterno, Death by Chocolate and Coffee Break  along with a menu of sandwiches, soups and, yes, even salads.  Proprietor Gabe Fellus says " I have it from sources that our ice cream is exactly what they feed the Nittany Lion on game days".   Lion lovers homesick for Happy Valley (and others) can enjoy Creamery products on weekdays from 11 am to 8 and until 9 on the weekend.



OCTOBER 2, 2015

INGA, THE POPE,  AND DIA SIN CARO

CCRA member and Pulitzer Prize  Inquirer columnist, Inga Saffron didn't write about the retail losses of the Pope Francis weekend, but instead captured  the reaction of many CCRAers by noting  that  Pope Francis' visit "created the kind of car free city that urbanists dare imagine only in their wildest dreams."  Inga's right. Carless urbanity  remains  a dream especially in our town where the Chestnut Street  transitway is seen to have cratered a bustling commercial strip and came to be regarded as pretty much a nightmare.  But  for those thinking about chasing that car free city dream, a good place to start is Bogota. Yep.  Bogota as in the Cali and Medellin cartels. Like Philadelphia, Bogota  bottomed out  in the 80's but, like Philadelphia, Bogota has  turned  the corner. Bogota's success was jump started by its former Mayor Enrique Penalosa. Penalosa's  most famous quote: "An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport".  In a city with first world throughways and no sidewalks, Penalosa concluded that a bus with 80 passengers should be allotted 80 times more space than a private passenger vehicle and that those who walk and bicycle  are just as entitled to a safe  transportation experience as a motorist operating a BMW. After establishing miles of high speed bus lanes, dedicated bike paths and  sidewalks, Penalosa declared February 24, 2000 as a  "Dia sin caro", a car less day.  800,000 vehicles parked for 24 hours. Hospital admissions dropped by a third, air quality soared,  but everyone got to work and school.  Bogotans made the "dia sin caro" a yearly affair and took their wildest dreams into the polling booth, voting to ban all cars during rush hour by 2015 -  a ballot initiative that, like many, didn't happen in the real world. But we needn't look to Bogota for dia sin caro inspiration. Try Santa Monica. Yes Santa bloody Monica, as in southern California, as in the infamous 405 freeway. What's the keystone of the Santa Monica uber pricey shopping/dining district?  Its three block long Third Street Promenade where thousands of Angelenos can be seen, drumroll please,  walking.  Now close your eyes, dream your wildest dreams and while you are doing so, think of Sansom Street. 



SEPTEMBER 25, 2015

A BREVIARY ON PAPAL VISIT ARRANGEMENTS

We promise that this will be the last "What's New" about the Pope's visit but this event is already significantly impacting our neighborhood so some message repetition seems in order.


THE LARGE TRAFFIC BOX

 

A traffic box will be erected on the evening of Friday September 25 - no specific time of the day has been announced.  The box extends into West Philadelphia, but, more immediately, for CCRA, the relevant boundaries are Delaware to the Schuylkill Rivers,  Girard Ave to the north, South Street to the South. See maps from the Inquirer for more detail. Vehicle travel within the box will be permitted but two cautions:

  1. Cars which exit the box will not be permitted to reenter.
  2. If you use a parking permit to station your car on the street,  be advised that  cars with permit stickers from other neighborhoods will be permitted to park in  any parking permit space regardless of number designation 

THE SMALLER NO PARKING BOX 

 

A smaller no parking box will be erected within the larger traffic movement box. For our neighborhood, the only announced no parking area is bounded by 18th Street on the west, Broad on the east, and Sansom on the south. Cars parked in this box after September 20 will be towed if they do not have a Parking Authority placard, which also entitles placard holders to a spot in a parking garage.  After Thursday, September 24 at 10 PM, all vehicles, including those with placards, must be removed from the No Parking box.


By the way, neighbors have advised that No Parking signs have been placed on 22nd Street from South Street north to the Parkway, although we have found no announcements that 22nd Street was to be off limits for parking.

 

PERMIT PARKING REVISIONS

 

As of Sunday, Sept 20 through Tues Sept 29 at 8 am, cars bearing permit parking stickers can park in any permit parking zone (even zones to which they are not assigned). We can expect that neighbors to the north in the smaller no parking box will be looking for spaces in the CCRA area.           

 

BIKE USAGE

 

Travel by bicycle will be permitted throughout the City. Note however that bikes will not be allowed through the checkpoints for the events on Saturday, September 26 (Festival of Families) and the Sunday, September 27 (Papal Mass)

 

WHAT MAY NOT BE CARRIED THRU PAPAL VISIT  CHECKPOINTS

 

Those who wish to attend the events scheduled for Saturday, September 26 (Festival of Families) and Sunday, September 27 (Papal Mass) will be screened at checkpoints. In addition to the usual excluded items (weapons, mace, ammunition etc) the following are prohibited:

 

Aerosols Hard-sided coolers 
Animals, except for service animals Laser pointers
Backpacks,bags exceeding 18in x 13in x 7in  Packages
Balloons Selfie sticks
Bicycles

Glass, thermal, or metal containers

Signs exceeding 5ft x 3ft x 1/4in made of any material except cardboard, poster board, or cloth

TAXIS/UBER    


The City website suggests but does not clearly state that taxis and  Uber  will operate on streets within the "box" except for restrictions applying on Sat September 26 through Monday Sept 28. The site states:

 

"Taxis and legal Uber vehicles will be able to access the Francis Festival Grounds until    Saturday, September 26, at 2:00 a.m.  Service in the Francis Festival Grounds will resume on Monday, September 28, at 3:00 a.m."


Taxi companies are "playing it by ear." Drivers are not allowed toenter the Large traffic box after 10 PM on Thursday, 9/24. Two taxi companies that we spoke to advised that cabs which are within the Large box as of 10PM on Thursday will be permitted to take fares and travel within the Large box BUT once the Pope arrives on Saturday, the companies believe that no vehicle traffic, including  taxi traffic  will be permitted within the Large box.



SEPTEMBER 18, 2015


CLIFF'S NOTES ON PAPAL VISIT

The restrictions pertaining to the Pope's visit, posted on the City'swebsite,  cannot be adequately summarized within the space provided by our newsletter but here are some of the more significant provisions: 

 

AUTOMOBILE RESTRICTIONS

 

THE LARGE VEHICLE MOVEMENT BOX

 

As we reported in our August 7 article "Thinking Inside the Papal Box" a  traffic box will be erected on the evening of Friday September 25 - no specific time of the day has been mentioned to date. While the box extends into West Philadelphia, for CCRA purposes, the relevant boundaries are Delaware to the Schuylkill Rivers,  Girard Ave to the north, South Street to the South. Seemaps from the Inquirer for more detail. Vehicle travel within the box will be permitted but two cautions:

  1. Cars which exit the box will not be permitted to reenter.
  2. If you use a parking permit to station your car on the street,  be advised that  cars with permit stickers from other neighborhoods will be permitted to park in  any parking permit space regardless of number designation 

THE SMALLER NO PARKING BOX 

 

A smaller no parking box will be erected within the larger vehicle movement box. For our neighborhood the only no parking area is bounded by 18th Street on the west, Broad on the east, and Sansom on the south. Cars parked in this box after September 20 will be towed if they do not have a Parking Authority placard, which also entitles placard holders to a spot in a parking garage.  After September 24 at 10 PM, all vehicles, including those with placards, must be removed from the No Parking box.

 

PERMIT PARKING REVISIONS

 

Starting this Sunday Sept 20 through Tues Sept 29 at 8 am, cars bearing permit parking stickers can park in any permit parking zone (even zones to which they are not assigned). We can expect that neighbors to the north in the smaller no parking box will be looking for spaces in the CCRA area.           

 

BIKE USAGE

 

Travel by bicycle will be permitted throughout the City. Note however that bikes will not be allowed through the checkpoints forthe events on Saturday, September 26 (Festival of Families) and the Sunday, September 27 (Papal Mass)

 

WHAT MAY NOT BE CARRIED THRU PAPAL VISIT  CHECKPOINTS

 

Those who wish to attend the events scheduled for Saturday, September 26 (Festival of Families) and Sunday, September 27 (Papal Mass) will be screened at checkpoints. In addition to the usual excluded items (weapons, mace, ammunition etc) the following are prohibited:

 

            Aerosols
            Animals, except for service animals
            Backpacks and bags exceeding 18in x 13in x 7in 

            (Clear bags are recommended to speed the MAG line                 process.)  
            Balloons
            Bicycles
            Glass, thermal, or metal containers
            Hard-sided coolers (soft-sided thermal coolers are allowed)
            Laser pointers
            Packages
            Selfie sticks
            Signs exceeding 5ft x 3ft x 1/4in made of any material                   except cardboard, poster board, or cloth

 

TAXIS/UBER    


The City website suggests but does not clearly state that taxis and  Uber  will operate on streets within the "box" except for restrictions applying on Sat September 26 through Monday Sept 28. The site states:

 

"Taxis and legal Uber vehicles will be able to access the Francis Festival Grounds until    Saturday, September 26, at 2:00 a.m.  Service in the Francis Festival Grounds will resume on Monday, September 28, at 3:00 a.m."

 

Even so, two local cab companies advised CCRA this afternoon that they were still uncertain as to what restrictions would apply next week.


SEPTEMBER 11, 2015


SOME OPEN QUESTIONS AFFECTING OUR NEIGHBORHOOD

As we enter the year's final trimester, there are a number of pending issues that we will be following:

 

SOUTH STREET BRIDGE TRAFFIC STUDIES:  Those traversing the South Street Bridge cannot help but notice the groundwork for a high rise office building to be occupied by Children's Hospital researchers and back office staff.  CCRA, partnering with South of South Neighborhood Association and South Street West Business Association has met regularly over a three year period with the CHOP planners on the site's design. Currently, our representatives participate in monthly meetings regarding the project's progress. The upshot is a design which, for the most part, is neighborhood friendly. Even so, CCRA remains concerned about traffic issues. Most vehicles will enter and exit the site at a stop light situated on the downstroke of the bridge at its eastern end. CHOP's traffic studies only account for the activity expected to arise from the initial tower presently under construction but, if CHOP carries through with its plans to extend the campus by erecting additional buildings south along the river, the traffic volume will increase significantly. To date, CHOP has refused the neighborhoods' request to expand the study to include an analysis of the possible implications of future development and, consequently,CCRA has written the Mayor's Office of Transportation asking that further studies be completed.  We shall update you on any developments.

 

COUNCIL'S DISTRIBUTION OF SCHOOL FUNDS:  Our June 26 edition reported on the three tax increases expected to net an additional $70 of which $50 million was derived from a real estate tax increase.  Of this sum, $45 million was transferred to the School District to help close the school budget gap, reported to be  $103 million. The remaining $25 million was withheld pending Council's authorization of its disbursement. Council President Clarke has pointedly questioned School Superintendent Hite about outsourcing the hiring of substitute teachers and the compensation levels of District personnel and, in doing so, has noted that Council has yet to approve the final $25 million disbursement.    We shall keep you updated on when and whether the additional funds are disbursed.

 

REAL ESTATE TAX ASSESSMENT ISSUES: The Crosstown Coalition, a 20 civic association federation of which CCRA was a charter member, delivered to the City's tax assessors, the Office of Property Assessment, a 37 page study, analyzing the accuracy of the AVI reassessment program. The report revealed a number of disparities. Most notably it concluded that land on properties subject to the ten year tax abatement was under assessed.  The City is entitled to collect taxes on the real estate portion of properties otherwise tax free due to the ten year abatement program so that these underassessments represent cash left on the table.  The Crosstown has requested a meeting with OPA to discuss these findings. We shall update you on any developments.

 

THE GUN SHOP ON PERCY STREET: Per our report in the August 14 edition, at the request of sister civic and fellow Crosstown member, Callowhill Neighbors Association, CCRA wrote the Zoning Board of Adjustment opposing the request for a permit to operate a gun shop on North Percy street, around the corner from the former site of Colosimo's, a gun retailer which was closed in 2009 by Federal authorities after weapons it sold were linked to ten homicides and more than 425 crimes. To date the Zoning Board of Adjustment has yet to rule on the request. We shall update you on any developments.



SEPTEMBER 4, 2015


LOTS OF NEWS TODAY

Crowds & Traffic Disruption as Philly Hosts High-Profile National Event, part 1. 

This weekend is the annual recurrence of Jay Z's Made in American Festival returns this Labor Day weekend.  The Parkway will be closed as hundreds of thousands stop into town to enjoy some tunes.  If you haven't gotten to Whole Foods yet, now would be a good time.  All the information you need can be found Here andHere and Here.  The show is sold out but there are tickets available for a couple hundred dollars on StubbHub here.

 

Crowds & Traffic Disruption as Philly Hosts High-Profile National Event, part 2.

You may have heard that Pope Francis will be visiting Philadelphia on the weekend of Sept. 25.  The Secret Service believes that Philadelphia will give His Holiness the same reception as HitchBot (see here and here).  We know better.  For a link to the City's page on current plans on treating the Pontiff's visit as if the Holy Father were a 30 inch snowfall, Click Here.  And courtesy of our friends atPlanPhilly.com (a terrific site, please visit) is a link to the Secret Service's flyer for the event:  Click Here

 

Crowds & Traffic Disruption as Philly Hosts High-Profile National Event, part 3.

Enough silliness.  The Pope's visit is an opportunity for Philly to shine on a national, if not gobal, stage.  Let's show 'em what we're really made of!  Volunteer to be a CCRA Civic Ambassador.  Our volunteers will be going out on their own schedule and walking the sidewalks looking for people who look like they need help and answering their questions and giving directions, as needed.  It's going to be friendly, relaxed and easy going - just like Philly itself.  Email us at centercity@centercityresidents.org.

 

Crowds & Traffic Disruption as Philly Hosts High-Profile National Event, part 4.

Now this is something to be annoyed about.  If your trash would ordinarily be picked up on Friday or Monday, the streets department will be skipping collection on Friday, September 25 and Monday, September 28.  Residents are instructed to hold their trash until the next weekend. 

 

Crowds & Traffic Disruption as Philly Hosts High-Profile National Event, part 5.

Councilman Johnson, who represents (approximately) the southern half of CCRA's footprint (district map here) will be hosting a meeting to address questions and concerns that residents may have about the Pope's visit.  The forum will be on September 9, from 6:30 to 7:30 at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, 901 S. Broad Street.

 

Mayhem and Bloodshed: South St. North Side Rezoning Meeting.

Some have suggested that zoning is Philly's answer to UFC/MMA (and this email is notorious for being snarky).  CCRA is hosting the Philadelphia City Planning Commission at a public meeting to discuss proposed zoning changes to the north side of South Street between Broad Street and the Schuylkill River. The meeting will be held on September 15, 2015 at 7 PM in the Independence Charter School at 1600 Lombard Street.  

 

The meeting will be an open house with maps and plans on display. Planning Commission staff will be present to answer questions and concerns. A link to a map of the proposed changes can be found by clicking here.


AUGUST 28, 2015


NORTH SIDE, SOUTH STREET...

CCRA won't be tripping the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York (though your usual author is tippling the wine fanastique en les bistros de Paris), but CCRA is hosting the Philadelphia City Planning Commission at a public meeting to discuss proposed zoning changes to the north side of South Street between Broad Street and the Schuylkill River. The meeting will be held on September 15, 2015 at 7 PM in the Independence Charter School at 1600 Lombard Street.  

 

The meeting will be an open house with maps and plans on display. Planning Commission staff will be present to answer questions and concerns. A link to a map of the proposed changes can be found by clicking here.

 

Please mark your calendars now and make plans to attend this important meeting.


AUGUST 21, 2105

HOUSE TOUR, POPE FRANCIS, & CCRA

Dear Reader, your usual correspondent is sojourning by the Seine and thus this missive shall not feature its hebdomadal quotient of recondite periphrasis or its quotidian bounty of erudite histo-literary allusion. 

All we have to offer this week is opportunity:

Opportunity No. 1.  The CCRA house tour is coming up on October 18.  Volunteers are needed to serve as docents and otherwise help run the event.  Day-of volunteers receive free house tour tickets (a $35 value!) as well as eternal gratitude (priceless).  Please email us at centercity@centercityresidents.org with the subject "House Tour Volunteer."

Opportunity No. 2.  Perhaps you've heard that the Pope is coming to town.  There's been some talk of 1.5 million or more people stopping by with him.  While the scuttlebutt suggests that the Bishop of Rome will cause more disruption than Category 3 Hurricane, this is an opportunity for us to show everyone what a great place Center City is.  To that end, CCRA is looking for volunteers who can serve as "civic ambassadors" during the papal visit.  We're looking for people who are willing to go on the streets, greet our visitors and help them find their way around town while they're here.  Let's make Philly shine!!!  If you're interested, please email centercity@centercityresidents.org (using the subject "Pope Visit").

Opportunity No. 3.  The CCRA is a volunteer organization.  If you'd like to participate more, or you are interested in joining our committees, please email centercity@centercityresidents.org and express your interest.



AUGUST 14, 2015

CCRA/CROSSTOWN WEIGH IN ON GUNSHOP

In response to a request from sister civic, Callowhill Neighborhood Association, CCRA expressed its opposition to an application for a zoning variance to  green light  a  retail gun shop at 542 North Percy Street, between 9th  and 10th a half block north of Spring Garden.  Further, the Crosstown Coalition, a federation of 20 civic associations of which CCRA is a charter member,  sent a similar letter in opposition.   CCRA neighbor and Pulitzer prize winning Inquirer columnist, Inga Saffron writing in Monday's Inquirer, noted that, according to  the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Collisimo's gun shop,  which operated for years on the 900 block of Spring Garden Street, sold firearms used in more than 425 crimes and ten homicides before Federal authorities closed the sales operation in 2009. 



AUGUST 7, 2015


THINKING INSIDE THE PAPAL BOX

There was no white smoke seen above Billy Penn's hat, but Mayor Nutter'spress conference on Papal visit arrangements was official anyway.  Some issues remain sketchy but here are some important points:

        

WHEN:  The World Meeting of Families opens Tuesday, September 22.  Pope Francis will arrive Saturday, September 26 and his public events extend through Sunday, September 27.  Crowds should peak at the time of  the Sunday Mass on Ben Franklin  Parkway commencing at 4PM.

 

WHERE:  They always say "You can't get to heaven in a limousine" so it is perhaps appropriate that a "traffic box" will be created for Francis' visit in which auto travel will be restricted where not prohibited. We know that the Box, which includes our entire neighborhood and then some, will be erected on Friday, September 25, although the exact time of day depends on crowd size - current estimates are that the Box will commence at 6 PM. A map depicts the exact boundaries of the Box but the pertinent perimeters for our community are 38th Street on the west, Delaware Avenue on the east with Girard Avenue and South Street forming the northern and southern boundaries.  The Mayor's press release provides that Septa bus and trolley service will not operate in the Box. No word yet on in the Box taxi travel. The press release waffles on whether private auto travel will be permitted within the Box.  The release declares that  "private vehicles will not be an option in the Box" but also states that vehicles may exit the Box but not return and that certain, as yet unspecified,  roadways will be restricted to unofficial traffic - two points which suggest that vehicle travel within the Box may be permitted. The release also failed to detail when the Box would "open."

 

In addition to vehicle usage restrictions, some important roadways will be closed.  While I - 95 will not be shut down, other major thoroughfares will close at 10 pm on Friday September 25th including:

  • The Schuylkill Expressway ( I - 76) eastbound from I - 476 (the Blue Route) to I - 95 and westbound from I - 95 to US 1 (City Line)
  • I - 676 (the Vine Street Extension)  will be closed in both directions
  • The Ben Franklin bridge will be closed 

To keep up to date on the latest restrictions, click here.



A LAWYER'S PRIMER FOR RENTING DURING THE POPE'S VISIT AND THE WORLD MEETING OF FAMILIES 


CCRA Member, attorney Peter Klenk, offers the following pointers:

1)     Are you an owner of a renter?


If you are a renter you may be out of luck. Almost all residential leases specify that the renter cannot sublet without the written consent of the landlord. Per the standard lease, if a tenant  sublets  without the landlord's  written  agreement, the tenant  becomes  subject to lease  remedies  which can  include  turning over any rents received and immediate termination of the  lease.

 

2)     Do you need a license or use permit  from the City to rent your property for Pope weekend?


Licenses: Bill 150441-A passed by City Council on June  15 provides that operators of "limited lodging facilities"  need not obtain a rental license provided the primary resident is the owner of the dwelling unit. Limited lodging involves using the premises for temporary rental occupancy and the provision of lodging during the Pope's visit and the preceding World Meeting of Families qualifies as temporary rental occupancy.  


Use Permits: No use permit is required for rentals during the relatively short period involving the Pope's visit and the World Meeting of Families. Such a rental would qualify as "Short Term Limited Lodging" -  visitor accommodations not more than 30 consecutive days for any particular person nor in excess of 180 days in any given year. Philadelphia Code 14-604 (13) (b) (i). 

 

3)     Will You Have to Pay Taxes?

 

Of course. You will owe Pennsylvania Income Tax on any rent received, at 3.07%. In addition, if you decide to rent at times other than the Pope's visit or during the World Meeting of Families event, the income would be reported on your Federal return if the property was rented more than 15 days in any calendar year. Finally, there are two Philadelphia accommodation taxes, the 8.5% Hotel tax and a 1% Hotel and Marketing Tax.  Under the ordinance, "booking agents" like Airbnb or VRBO who facilitate reservations or collect rentals are designated to collect these levies.

 

4)     Do You Need a Rental Agreement?

 

You would be foolish not to have your visitors sign a rental agreement. Renting out your home is much different than selling your tickets for a ball game. Outlining your rights in an agreement similar to one you would sign for renting a beach house protects you if a problem were to arise. Without an agreement, can you keep the security deposit to do any necessary repairs? What about if your renters decide they do not want to leave your apartment, how do you kick them out? Best to outline your terms ahead of time than fight about them later.


5)     Call Your Homeowner Insurance Carrier

 

This may be the most important step you take. Ensure that any issues that may come up in a short-term rental are covered by your policy. If not, you could be left unprotected if your renters damage your home, a theft occurs during their occupancy or if they are injured on your property. Without policy coverage, you will be paying the cost of legal representation, settlements or damages.

 

These represent a few of the main considerations when deciding whether to rent your property out during the Pope's visit or the World Meeting of Families event.


Peter L. Klenk, Esquire

 

Peter Klenk is the principal of a Philadelphia estate planning law firm concentrating its practice in probate and estate related litigation. Klenk Law specializes in trusts, wills, estate planning, probate, will challenges and will contests, with offices in Philadelphia, Bucks County, Allentown, New York and New Jersey.



JULY 31, 2015


UEDs MAY BE  UEDONE

Dodged that bullet. In a March 16 Special Edition of the newsletter, we urged our readers to contact Council regarding  UED's, urban experiential displays -  58 foot high, three dimensional digital billboards proposed for three locations -  South Broad Street on the Sporting Club garage, North Broad Street, next to the Convention Center,  and on Race, adjacent to the Reading Terminal. Calls and emails from CCRAers led to the elimination of the UED Sporting Club site in our neighborhood.  However,  the other two  proposed venues are "orphans", they have no Civic Association to present a citizen voice. Accordingly, despite requests from both CCRA and the Crosstown Coalition, Council  okayed UEDs for the Convention Center and  Reading Terminal sites. Fortunately, it's better to be lucky than to be good. This Spring, PennDot withdrew a long standing agreement delegating to  the City  the  State's  authority to enforce the signage provisions of the Highway Beautification Act. Presumably PennDOT  reasoned  that a  City which has, over the years,  failed to enforce tax bills totaling in the billions would be comparably feckless in administering signage regulations. The proposed UEDs fail to conform to the size and image limitations of the Federal statute AND the proposed displays are all within 660 feet of both  Broad Street and Race Street, thoroughfares  included in the Federal highway program. So, if PennDot enforces the Federal regulations, we may  be done with UEDs - cross your fingers.



JULY 24, 2015

THE CCRA COMMUNITY: INDEGO'S NUMBER ONE NEIGHBORHOOD

The statisticians at Indego, the City's new bike share program,  have reached an obvious conclusion - our neighborhood is number one.  The bike station at Rittenhouse Square (the north side of Walnut on the 1900 block) is the City's most heavily used Indego facility - "no other station comes close" according to Indego spokesperson, Keira Smalls.  The  Indego stats also tell us that the most common Indego trip connects to our neighborhood between the station at 23rd & South (opposite South Square Market)  and University City. Even though the system has only been up and running for three months, it's taken off like Chris Froome, the Kenyan tearing up the Tour De France. In the first three months of the program, the City has seen 160,000 trips taken by 30,000 riders on the program's 600 bikes positioned at 71 stations.  There are plans afoot for additional Indego facilities but the program's current stations fit the neighborhood's travel needs well. Want to go to Trader Joe's?  There's a station on the north side of the 2200 block of Market. More of a Whole Foods shopper? Indego has that covered too with its station on the 2100 block of Hamilton St. Tired of living on bread alone and in search of food for the intellect? Indego is at the main branch of the Free Library at 19th near Vine. 




JULY 17, 2015


MARKET STREET BEER GARDEN POPS UP ANEW 

Our July 2 edition featured the “pop up”  of the Uptown seasonal beer garden  at the BNY Mellon Bank Center, 1735 Market. It quickly  popped down after the City’s Licensing and Inspection Department  stepped in citing zoning,  building permit and certificate of occupancy issues.  But Wednesday, July 15,  brought  joy to Mudville. The 9000 square foot venue with a 35 foot bar reopened.  This is an L and I feel good story. An Uptown  spokesperson graciously  acknowledged that L and I  properly  enforced city regulations AND worked expeditiously with Uptown representatives  to remedy the deficiencies.  The promptness of L and I’s action at the Uptown contrasts with press reports about the timeliness and priorities of the agency. In our community, 325 South 18th Street, the southeast corner of 18th and Delancey, has been abandoned and derelict for more than a decade. L and I’s operations were the topic of  an independent commission report instituted through the Nutter administration and published last September.  That report provided a basis for a February news conference at City Hall cosponsored by CCRA.  While some of that report’s recommendations have been addressed, other topics impacting on  speed and priority of enforcement issues have yet to be implemented. 


JULY 10, 2015


MEHPHILADELPHIA

Two publications make the What's New reading list each year. First we point readers to the annual Center City District publication, "The State of Center City", 75 pages of factoids about Philadelphia's downtown neighborhoods. Now it's time to read  the Pew Trust "State of the City" report, 75 pages of factoids about the City as a whole.

 

The good news? More Philadelphians see the City headed in the "right direction"  (48%) than being on the "wrong track" (33%) and, more dramatically, 67% believe the City will be a better place to live in the next 5 years while only 18% expect it to be a worse place.   


But a thorough reading of the Pew report brings to mind The Tale of Two Cities' opening lines: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." In the "Best of times" column for civic improvement, we can place two ribbon cuttings in our backyard -Dilworth Park and the Schuylkill Banks boardwalk - and  realty prices - up 34% in the last four years for 19103 and 16% for 19146 BUT for sales of residential units, the 2014 figure (14,261) is less than half of the 2005 level (29,146). Turning to unemployment, Philadelphia's rate is  down three percentage points to 7.8% since 2010 BUT our unemployment figures exceed not only the rest of the country (6.2%) but also Pittsburgh (5.7%) and Boston ( 5.6%). Similarly, the City's  job growth more than doubled between 2013 and 2014 from .5% to 1.3% BUT the national statistics show job growth at 1.9%. And so it goes.



JULY 2, 2015


THE UPTOWN BEER GARDEN: CONVENIENT SIPS FOR PARCHED LIPS

The Uptown Beer Garden (east of the BNY Mellon Bank Building on the 1700 block of Market and JFK) has opened, offering libations to CCRA members who, in past years, traversed South Street and Broad Street in a parched condition to enjoy a their liquid bread in a sylvan setting. The Uptown's hours are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 5 to 10 pm, Wednesdays from 4 to midnight and Fridays and Saturdays from 2pm to midnight.  There's food too - bar snacks, sliders and sandwiches.  When considering an outing to the Uptown, remember Homer Simpson's admonition: "Beer is so much more than a breakfast food."



JUNE 26, 2015

MEMO TO CCRA'ERS :  MAN UP TO  TAX INCREASES (AND WOMAN UP TOO)

All CCRA members fall within the two groups which perpetually  complain about taxes - men and women . So we are giving  it to you straight.  Before  its ten week  summer recess (don't ask) and more than a month after standing before  electorate in  the May primary (are you asking again?) , City Council passed three tax increases totaling $70 million, as a response  to  the School District's request  for $103 million in new City funding. 

 

  • $50 million from a 4.5% property tax increase.   The millage rate will increase from 1.34% to 1.40%.   When the homestead exemption is included, taxes on a residence assessed for $500,000 will increase by $282. 
  • $10 million from a parking tax increase.  The tax rate will rise from 20% to 22.5%.  Parking lot and garage operators will probably increase their rates to cover this tax increase.
  • $10 million from a 7.7% increase in the Use and Occupancy tax.  This tax is paid by tenants in commercial buildings.  The increase is estimated to cost the average commercial tenant $120 for a 1,000 square foot space.

$45 of the $70 million will go directly to the School District as the taxes are collected.  The Inquirer reported that the remaining $25 million "was not  guaranteed" but, instead, was allocated to Council's own budget  for transfer to the District when Council reconvenes in September. In discussing the $25 million holdback, Council President Clarke was reported to have  concerns about the District's proposed outsourcing for the hiring of substitute teachers and nurses, an initiative approved by the School Reform Commission.

 

As for  the $30 million shortfall  between School Superintendent Hite's $103 million request and Council's $70 million, Clarke mentioned that this gap might be addressed by the sale of tax liens via an  "experimental" auction although, according to the Inquirer,  the administration had not worked up a revenue estimate for the sales . 

 

Our two District council representatives, Darrell Clarke and Kenyatta Johnson,  both voted for the property tax and Use and Occupancy tax increases but, on the parking tax levy, Clarke voted in favor while Johnson opposed.



JUNE 19, 2015

CCRA TO THE PA: "BRING IT ON"

Twenty-one readers responded to last week's request for reactions to Mayoral candidate Kenney's proposal that the Parking Authority double down on their duties by enforcing quality of life infractions - ticketing for matters such as litter and dumpster violations and improperly permitted construction sites.  Do these  replies effectively represent a cross section of our neighborhood, home to 27,000 people? Not to worry. Our crack statistical team, clad in their white lab coats, ran the secret CCRA algorithms. Their conclusion: On  even days of the month,  the margin of error presented by this sample is not higher than 100%.  With these assurances, we report that 12 respondents favor the Kenney proposal.  Only 5 were opposed, although their responses were far more colorful and entertaining.  Four  addressed  the general topic, quality of life issues, but did not specifically endorse or ixnay the Kenney proposal and, consequently, these 4 were denied access to the feed bin at the bottom of the hamster wheel. Some other interesting upshots:

  • 5 respondents identified sidewalk snow shoveling as a significant quality of life issue.
  • Some suggested that the Parking Authority be empowered to report violations but not issue tickets.
  • Several respondents recommended that  the program be launched for a time-limited pilot period.
  • Another respondent suggested  that the the Parking Authority white shirts be directed to "prey on the rest of the populous first before giving the additional opportunity to feast upon our carcasses. Let them harass people in  Germantown, Tioga, Hunting Park, Point Breeze....as they do our community" and expressed interest in seeing the breakdown on parking revenues in our neighborhood versus other parts of the City.


JUNE 12, 2015

KENNEY GOES POSTAL PARKING. GIVE US YOUR OPINION

Gingerly stepping on the third rail of life in the big city - parking enforcement - Democratic Mayoral Nominee Jim Kenney suggests empowering the Parking Authority to issue tickets for quality of life infractions, side walk, litter and  dumpster violations and also to check on the permitting at construction sites. The cons are obvious - the Parking Authority management payroll includes many non-civil service employees and the Authority is state run so that it is not beholden to the local political establishment.  The patronage/non local control combination raises at least two concerns - selective political enforcement by an agency unresponsive to the local community and a burgeoning bureaucracy filled with political drones.  But let's face it, the Parking Authority didn't become the governmental organization   we all hate the most by accident. It took a lot of hard work. Patronage, shmatronage, these people get the job done (and there are more of them - 250 parking authority street enforcers as compared to 56  L & I inspectors per the Citified site). The contrast between the Parking Authority and L & I is particularly painful - one agency's Teutonic efficiency merited a TV show, the other bureaucracy's pratfalls are chronicled in the headlines with depressing regularity.  Would the City be a better place if L and I/Street Department regulations were enforced with the Teutonic fervor of Parking Authority staff?  What do you think? Favor us with an email on the topic by hitting the link below or emailing centercityresidents@centercity.org. 



JUNE 5, 2015

CENTER CITY ZONING OVERLAY BILL:  REQUEST FOR PAUSE GRANTED TO CROSSTOWN COALITION

Here they go again.   On Tuesday, after a hearing about which neither CCRA nor many other affected civics received any notice, City Council's Rules Committee  approved a bill (140519) that would allow taller and denser commercial buildings in select areas of Center City, and permit residential development on smaller lots than is currently allowed.  This lack of notice was despite the fact that CCRA has been engaged in a 6- month long zoning remapping process, and despite the fact that the Philadelphia Crosstown Coalition (of which CCRA is a charter member and active participant) had been involved in extensive discussions with many of the stakeholders regarding the overlay concept. Thanks to the quick action of Steve Huntington, CCRA Executive Director and PCC Chair, and Joe Schiavo, PCC Zoning and Land Use Committee Chair, Councilman Mark Squilla, the bill's sponsor, has agreed to pause the bill until there is an opportunity to convene a roundtable meeting of representatives of all the communities impacted by it. 

 

As presently written, the bill would create a Center City Commercial District Control Area, bounded by South and Spring Garden and the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers.  Among other things, it would: 

  • Permit buildings in CMX-2 properties (neighborhood commercial corridors) that have frontage on three or more streets to be built to 55 feet, rather than the 38 feet currently allowed. Two of the streets must be at least 50 feet wide.
  • Allow density bonuses on CMX-3 lots with frontage on three or more streets for mixed-income housing or green building. The density bonuses, up to an additional 250% of Floor Area Ratio, are currently allowed in Transit-Oriented Development districts.  These TOD districts have not yet been drawn into the city maps.
  • Increase the maximum Floor Area Ratio to 750% in CMX-4 lots that fall within both the Center City Commercial District Control Area and the Center City/University City Floor Area ratio.
  • Remove the limit on residential units in lots zoned CMX-2 and CMX-2.5, and reduce the minimum size of units to 360 square feet.

 We will keep you posted as negotiations progress on this important legislation.



MAY 29, 2015

PLANS FOR BOYD THEATRE SITE REJECTED

On Tuesday, the Historical Commission's Architectural Committee voted unanimously to recommend to the Historical Commission that Pearl Properties' plan for 1900-06 and 1910 Chestnut Street [a consolidated parcel that includes the historic Boyd Theatre and Raymond Pace Alexander Building (most recently Qdoba)] be rejected.  As reported here previously, the plan presently includes a 27-story residential tower (for 200+ apartments), retail and restaurant spaces, and underground parking, while maintaining some of the structure of the 1920s-era theater.

 

The plan faced fierce opposition by a coalition of highrise residential towers: 1920 Chestnut, the Rittenhouse Plaza, 10 Rittenhouse, and the William Penn House.  Richard Gross, a representative of this coalition (as well as a CCRA Board member), argued that the design does not respect the contextual cues of the environment or follow the applicable federal historic standards.  He said the neighboring highrises repeatedly asked the developers to collaborate with, and solicit input from, community members. "We want development on this site, just not this development."  Friends of the Boyd, represented by Howard Haas, spoke in opposition to the insertion of new windows in place of the original Art Deco panes and the use of the Sansom Street facing foyer as a loading dock, but generally spoke favorably of the plan.  Members of CCRA's Task Force on this project also were in attendance.

 

After a lively discussion among the Committee members, Chair Dominique Hawkins said that the presentation did not provide a clear picture of the materials that were going to be used or how the tower portion of the project would relate to the base, an assessment that seemed to be universally held by the Committee.  The rejected plan now goes to the full Historical Commission, which will consider it at a public meeting on June 12 in Room 18-029, 1515 Arch St. (One Parkway).  Commission meetings commence at 9:00 am.

 

As presently designed, the project does not appear to require any variances from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.  However, aside from receiving approval from the Historical Commission, it must be the subject of a Community Meeting (led by CCRA as the coordinating Registered Community Organization).  It also must go through Civic Design Review in a public meeting at the Planning Commission, which is only advisory.  CDR is scheduled for July 7.  Stay tuned for further information and the date, time, and location of the Community Meeting. 


MAY 22, 2015

THE POLLSTERS HAVE SPOKEN AS HAS CENTER CITY

Our forefathers gathered in Philadelphia  and created an electoral system enabling  an enlightened  citizenry to determine whether the pollsters were correct.  Eleven score and seven years later, Philadelphians belied  the Inquirer/Daily News/NBC poll showing  Jim Kenney at 42% in the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination. 231,000 voters, 61,000 fewer than in 2007 when we elected Mayor Nutter, showed up at the polls and  also showed up  the pollsters  - Kenney won with 58.5 of the vote citywide.

                                          

But enough about our forefathers' 1788 gathering in Washington Square West, what about the returns in our CCRA neighborhood? Our voters  ran with the winner giving  Kenney 61.6% of the vote, three points higher than Kenney's City numbers. In the highly publicized race involving the southern section of our community where incumbent Kenyatta Johnson was challenged by  Ori Feibush for the Second Council seat, Johnson won by a wide margin even though we cast 58.9% of our votes for the loser Feibush who only received 37.3% of the vote district wide.


Our neighborhood also bucked the City trends in the Council at Large races. Seven candidates ran for two Republican  Council at Large seats. Republican incumbents, Oh and Obrien, won narrowly with the number 2 vote getter, O'Brien, besting our  neighbor Terry Tracy by less than 250 votes. Our community turned out in force for Tracy  and also cast nearly 42 % more votes for Matt Wolfe than the rest of the City.

 

Republican Vote Results City Wide   CCRA Republican Vote

   David Oh           18%                      Terry Tracy          19.9%

   Dennis O'Brien   16.2%                    David Oh             17.9%

   Terry Tracy        15.7%                    Matt Wolfe           15.8%

   Dan Tinney        15.1%                    Dennis O Brien     12.8%

   Al Taubenberger 13.2%                    Al Taubenberger   11.8%

   Matt Wolfe         11.7%                    James Williams    11.2%    

   James Williams  10%                      Dan Tinney          10.8%

 

The Democratic field for Council at Large included 16 candidates seeking five seats. Local resident Allan Domb and Logan Square neighbor Helen Gym, both of whom won nominations after placing as the third and fifth highest vote getters, fared well among CCRA area voters but other local favorites, Paul Steinke, Sherrie Cohen, and Tom Wyatt did not win citywide. The top ten Democratic vote getters and their percentage of votes in the 16 person field were: 


Democrat Results City Wide        CCRA Democrat Vote Top Ten

    Derek Green          10.7%             Paul Steinke       16%

    Reynolds Brrown     9.77%            Helen Gym        15.6%

    Allan Domb             8.95%           Alan Domb         14.3%

    Wm.Greenlee          7.9%             Sherrie Cohen     9.8%

    Helen Gym             7.6%             Tom Wyatt          7.9%

    Isaiah Thomas        7.46%            Derek Green       6.1%

    Sherrie Cohen        7.11%            Wm. Greenlee     5.8%

    Ed Neilson             6.35%            Reynolds Brown  5.7%

    Paul Steinke           5.74%           Isaiah Thomas     4.9%

    Jenne Ayers           5.09%           Wilson Alexander 3.3%



MAY 15, 2015

READ ALL ABOUT IT: 19 COUNCIL CANDIDATES ON THE ISSUESIn February, the Crosstown Coalition, of which CCRA is a charter member, presented the Council Candidates with a 16 item questionnaire.  7 incumbents, and 12 challengers, 14 Democrats and  5 Republicans have answered the Questionnaire. For the full text of each response or highlights of the responses go to the Crosstown website  philacrosstown.org. which also contains breakouts as to the Democratic and Republican responses.


As with the Mayoral candidates, the most interesting Council candidate responses are those where there is wide agreement. Fourteen candidates believe that Council should have conducted public hearings on the PGW sale issue. Three candidates (Greenlee, Oh, and Reynolds Brown), all incumbents, replied that Council handled the issue appropriately. Neilson, another incumbent, replied but did not answer the PGW hearing question, and challenger Isaiah Thomas side-stepped the question. Eighteen respondents favor making the Inspector General a permanent office. Only Bill Greenlee doesn't answer, noting that a number of City offices have duties that conflict with the Inspector General's and observing that the finances and resources of the Inspector General's Office "need to be taken into consideration". Asked whether an independent commission should be charged with mapping Council's electoral districts instead of Council, 14 respondents, including Council incumbents Neilson and Squilla, favored a non partisan commission, while four incumbents support the current system under which Council draws the boundaries - Greenlee, Johnson, Oh, and O'Brien. Incumbent Reynolds Brown replied that she would consider this innovation.


MAY 8, 2015

READ ALL ABOUT IT: THE MAYORAL CANDIDATES ON THE ISSUES

In February the Crosstown Coalition, of which CCRA is a charter member, presented the Democratic Mayoral candidates  a 16 item questionnaire. The complete responses of  Abraham, Diaz, Kenney. Oliver, and Williams are posted at www.philacrosstown.org. (as are the responses from 19 candidates for Council). On the Republican side of the Mayor's race, Melissa Murray Bailey is running uncontested so her chance to answer Crosstown queries will arise prior to November's general election.


The most interesting mayoral candidate   responses, captured in the enclosed highlights,  fell into two categories - answers where there was disagreement among the candidates and answers where the candidates agreed.  The candidates disagreed on: 

  • The merits of the  10 year realty tax abatement program
  • Whether Council should remove itself from land bank sales procedures
  • Whether an independent commission should take over Council's role in remapping Council districts
  • Whether uncollected tax liens should be sold to private parties
  • The frequency of real estate tax reassessments. 

On the other hand, the contenders agreed that: 

  • The Inspector General position, currently held by bulldog prosecutor Amy Kurland, should be made permanent.
  • The PGW sale issue should have been debated in Council
  •  Realty tax revenues should increase while wage/business tax revenues should decrease.
  • The pension program for City employees should be shifted away from a defined benefits program (where pension payouts are computed relative to years of employment and compensation level) to a defined contribution program (where the payout is determined by the funds set aside for the employee). 
In next week's What's New, we will analyze the 19 responses received from 14 Democratic City Council candidates and 5 Republicans.


MAY 1, 2015

A YOUNG MAN'S FANCY TURNS TO URBAN METRICS

Spring, our annual surprise, is upon us. With it arrives this year's State ofCenter City report published by the Center City District, an event  cherished by urbanophiles as others treasure the trellises of cherry blossoms which canopy Crosstown sidewalks.  The heart flutters as pages filled with city factoids flip by.  How many pedestrians traverse 1700 Walnut at midday? [1] What is the count of outdoor cafes from Vine to South river to river?  [2] Which haberdashery features a live in bulldog?[3] What percentage of residents in our community walks to work? [4] How many visitors skated on Dilworth Plaza this winter?[5] And so much more that there is talk about limiting circulation to adults only or at least delivering it in brown wrapping paper.
[1] 2000; [2] 369; [3]  Duke & Winston;  [4] 71%; [5] 46,000


APRIL 24, 2015

BUILDING PERMIT APPROVED FOR BOYD THEATRE SITE

Since Pearl Properties purchased the Boyd Theatre in October, giving it ownership of the entire eastern half of the south side of the 1900 block of Chestnut St., we have made many efforts to find out what its intentions are.  Did it intend to honor the commitment of the prior owner to retain the Chestnut St. façade and entrance for a deluxe 8-screen multiplex movie theater?  Did it intend to use its now expanded footprint to build its previous proposed high rise at the SW corner of 19th and Chestnut, but without the need for legislative rezoning?  Even as demolition of the Theatre auditorium was about to commence, our efforts yielded no more than a "wait and you'll see."  Well, as reported in Wednesday's Philadelphia Inquirer, Pearl has received a building permit for the entire site, and intends to erect a project that will require neither legislative rezoning or variances from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.  The permit indicates the following:  a 27-story tower with more than 200 apartments; 66 underground parking spaces; 3 stories of retail fronting on Chestnut; and loading docks (and the entry/exit to the parking) on Sansom St.  Also, instead of being massed at the corner of 19th and Chestnut, the high rise is now situated mostly behind 1920 Chestnut (La Castagne restaurant), though the pedestrian entrance is on 19th St.  And the plans contain no suggestion of any movie theaters. CCRA still has not heard anything substantive from the developer, however, due to the size of the proposed structure, even if it does not need any zoning variances, it must go through Civic Design Review (advisory only), which means it will be subject to a CCRA Community Meeting, and receive our formal input at the Planning Commission.  We will keep you posted.

"UNCANNY VALLEY" 90 MILES OFF BROADWAY,  90 TIMES BETTER

For Philadelphia playgoers who select productions because of the actors, a must see is any  performance by Frank X, currently in Interact Theater's "Uncanny Valley".  Hurry, the performances at 2035 Sansom Street close this weekend. The production raises  NYC - Philadelphia balance of trade issues. This year Broadway has brought us Glenn Close, a personal fav,  who repeatedly flubbed  lines in A Delicate Balance, Albee's dated  and improbable drama. On the other hand, Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Marigold Hotel) knocks it out of the park in Skylight salvaging a forgettable script played on a set  bringing to mind a well crafted and innovative middle school production. And all this at prices that would  choke the Koch Brothers, well maybe not both of them at once. On Sansom Street, Uncanny Valley raises timeless and haunting questions - What is human? Are there limits to science and to love? It is presented on a nifty set. Frank X's mastery is such that a production without his presence is unthinkable.  And for Philadelphia playgoers who select plays because of their actors, there's one more to  add to a growing  list - Sally Mercer - who performs opposite Frank  X in this two person production. 


APRIL 17, 2015

ANOTHER CCRA VICTORY OVER UEDS

CCRA's April 6 letter to  Mayor Nutter, published in the Inquirer, requested a veto of enabling legislation for UED's, the six-story, three dimensional, full-motion video billboards proposed for the Convention Center and Reading Terminal Market. Although similar veto requests were made  by Scenic Philadelphia, the Crosstown Coalition, a Daily News editorial, and many of you, the Mayor opted not to veto and returned the bill to  Council with a letter identifying key CCRA objections -  traffic safety distraction  issues, elimination of Planning Commission input, and the lack of transparency/accountability relating to payments promised to chosen non-profits. The Mayor's letter noted that his objections had been addressed in an amendment, Bill 150825, negotiated by his staff and the Bill's sponsor, Councilman Squilla.

 

While we would have preferred a veto, it's not certain that two other Council members would have teamed up with Council people Wilson Goode,  Kenyatta Johnson, and Blondell Reynolds Brown to block a Council  override of the veto. Moreover, the Mayor's  letter endorsing  CCRA's critique was just the latest validation of our efforts.  We had previously  eliminated two proposed UEDs in our neighborhood (on the S.E. corner of 19th and Market and  on the Bellevue garage at Broad and Locust).   And thanks to the Nutter/Squilla compromise embodying CCRA's objections,  the Planning Commission must opine as to whether a proposed UED is "appropriate in its scale, density, character and use for the surrounding community;"  PennDOT/the Streets Dept. must sign off on vehicle and pedestrian safety; and any money given to non-profits will be monitored by a governmental entity, and must be used "exclusively for public improvements in the vicinity of the UED."  



APRIL 10, 2015

LOVE PARK PLANNING QUESTION: DO YOU BELIEVE IN UFO'S?

The City's $15 million plan for redoing LOVE park will be finalized by April 30th and a decision must be made as to retaining or demolishing the so-called flying saucer building, on the northeast corner of 16th and JFK,  a  mid-century structure  designed to serve as a visitor center with potential for re-use as a coffee house or restaurant. The building, erected in the 60's according to the Inquirer, features a style that was in favor for one week during the late 50's.  For preservationists the structure, evokes the time of Jackie Kennedy's pillbox hat, the Beatles and Frank Rizzo's years as Chief of Police. For trekkies who believe that every city needs at least one UFO, razing the edifice is unthinkable.   If you wouldlike to provide your thoughts about retaining the saucer, email the Fairmont Park Conservancy info@fairmountparkconservancy.org.  For more information about the proposed park designs, click here



APRIL 3, 2015

FOUR REPLY TO MAYORALTY QUESTIONNAIRE: ANTHONY WILLIAMS CHANNELS SIMON & GARFUNKEL

So far,  Mayoral Candidate Anthony Williams campaign brings to mind  Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence". In contrast to candidates Lynn Abraham, Nelson Diaz,  Jim Kenney, and Doug Oliver, Williams has not responded to the Crosstown Coalition Questionnaire which was transmitted on February 11 and again on March 3 with a request that responses be received by March 13, in advance of a candidate's night held by four Crosstown member associations. Williams staffers promise a reply shortly. Highlights of the answers and verbatim responses are enclosed..  The highlight answers (or click here for the detailed responses) received to date contain differing takes  on some hot topics such as  the ten year tax abatement; the frequency of real property reassessments; the merits of an independent commission, not Council,  mapping its own electoral districts; and  the sale of delinquent tax liens to private interests for collection. One interesting takeaway, all  four candidates agree that Inspector General Amy Kurland's office should be made permanent.  And apologies to contender Milton Street. Given the controversy surrounding his residences, it should not be surprising that the CCRA office has been unable to locate a Street campaign email address to deliver the questionnaire. 


LOOK SWEET ON A BIKE SHARE SEAT STARTING 4/23

Go half crazy and take one of Philadelphia's new  bike share two wheelers out for a spin. The  program, "Indego,"  begins operations  April 23.  The pricing: $15 monthly  memberships  provide unlimited trips of 1 hour or less ($4/hour for each trip in excess of an hour).  Annual memberships, which cost $10, entitle users to unlimited trips at $4/hour.  For out of towners, tire kickers, etc., cash and single day options are available.  In this first phase, bikes will be stationed at 60 or so locations. To unlock the bikes, members will be provided  key fobs (delivered by mail) or the credit card used to purchase the membership may also be used to unlock bikes.  All bikes have built in baskets, bells, and lights and, if you park at a bike station, there is no need to carry a lock.  However, riders need to provide their own helmets (though a helmet is not required).  For more information, including a map locating bike stations, or to sign up, go to www.rideindego.com .  (NOTE:  For months, CCRA has urged the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities to provide more bike stations in our neighborhood.  Rest assured that we will continue to do so.)


MARCH 27, 2015

CCRA'S THRILLA IN PHILA: 350 HEAR FEIBUSH/JOHNSON

350 neighbors heard real estate developer Ori Feibush and incumbent Kenyatta Johnson, Democrats seeking City Council's  seat for the Second District in a candidate's night moderated by Philadelphia Magazine's Holly Otterbein.

 

Lincoln - Douglas it was not but we learned a few things: 

  • WHO THEY SUPPORT FOR MAYOR: Johnson supports Mayoral Candidate Anthony Williams noting that he had seen Senator Williams advancing Philadelphia's agenda while Johnson served in the state House.  Feibush is undecided.
  • SCHOOL FUNDING: Asked whether they supported the administration's proposed 9% real estate tax increase to close the school funding gap, Johnson responded that any assessment of City funding for school funding needs must await news as to the amount of Harrisburg's support for our schools. Feibush maintained that a tax increase could be avoided if the City addressed an AVI shortcoming identified by the Crosstown Coalition, the under valuation of land.
  • CAMPAIGN FUNDING: Candor broke out  when both candidates acknowledged they would appreciate support from any group acting independently of their respective campaigns utilizing the Citizens United campaign funding strategies. When asked whether his campaign should be "taken seriously" because it is largely self funded, Feibush replied that this approach shows "I am in my pocket and no one else's". In response to a question concerning a contribution made by the developer advancing the proposed Hudson Hotel at 17th and Chancellor, Johnson noted that, despite the contribution,  this project, colloquially known as the "Little Pete's" proposal, has not yet been approved and that his campaign records reveal contributions from development groups whose projects had been turned down at Council.   
  • COUNCIL PERSON PEROGATIVE: Moderator Otterbein described Councilperson privilege where, by custom, City Council members defer to District Council representatives on issues within their respective districts, then asked Feibush whether his real estate holdings in the Second District would present a conflict of interest. Feibush replied that he had divested himself of all properties in the District save one and went on to lambast the Councilperson privilege custom, claiming that it discouraged good urban planning by singling out stand alone parcels. There was no follow up question as to whether Feibush would go back into the Second District market if elected.  
  • PGW: Feibush wants the gas works sold observing that the City should not be in the utility business and suggesting that the sale funds would be well used to decrease the City's pension deficit. Johnson  joined former Council member and current Mayoral candidate Jim Kenney in disowning the decision  not to hold public debates on the PGW sale. Johnson stated that he did not introduce a bill because of strong constituent feedback against the sale. He did not mention that at least one constituent group, CCRA,  had requested that Council open the question to public debate.

UED BILL PASSES 13 -3

It was two steps forward, one step backward in CCRA's campaign against the Urban Experiential Display legislation authorizing the installation of UEDs (six story, three dimensional digital ad displays). CCRA's  earlier two steps forward efforts led to the elimination of UED's at two sites in  our community (19th and Market and Broad Street south of Walnut on the Sporting Club garage). But it was one step backward on March 26 when Council authorized UED enabling legislation for sites at Reading Terminal and the Convention Center despite testimony from CCRA's President Jeff Braff, Crosstown Coalition Chair Steve Huntington,Scenic Philadelphia Executive Director Mary Tracy, and Design Advocacy Group chair Kiki Bolender. The vote was 13 -3 with nays from Council people Wilson Goode, our own Kenyatta Johnson,  and Blondell Reynolds Brown.  

Particularly distressing were last minute amendments eliminating a required determination by the Planning Commission that a UED "provides for reasonable, compatible spatial relationships," and elimination of the requirement of an agreement between the "Applicant" for a UED and a governmental entity for a financial contribution "to be used exclusively for public improvements in the immediate vicinity of the UED" (e.g., sidewalk repairs, lighting, transit stations).  Instead, Catalyst Outdoor, the UED operator who pushed for this legislation, has entered into "community benefits agreements," not mentioned in the legislation, which call for payments by Catalyst directly to certain non-profits, with no requirements as to the use of such funds.

MARCH 20, 2015

CCRA UED VICTORY! BUT NOW LET'S CHAMPION THE CITY'S ORPHANED AREAS

Our voice has been heard in the battle over Urban Experimental Displays (UED's) - the six-story 3-dimensional digital billboards enabled by Council Bill 140906.  In the Fall, CCRA persuaded Council President Clarke to remove the southeast corner of 19th and Market as a possible UED location.  And thanks to a vigorous neighborhood  response to CCRA's call to action, and the eloquent testimony of CCRA's Pres. Jeff Braff and VP Chuck Goodwin, Councilman Johnson pulled the UED proposed for the Bellevue garage at Broad and Locust from the legislation.  Read Daily News account here.

 

Even so, the revised Bill (delivered to us late last night and, as of 3:20 this afternoon, still not on City Council's website) still calls for UEDs at two "orphaned" community commons areas of the City -  the Convention Center and Reading Terminal. It is ironic that these sites, used by all Philadelphians,  have no representation via a  Civic Association to express citizens' perspectives .because these venues are used by all Philadelphians, not just citizens of the City's residential neighborhoods represented by  civic associations. In this City of Neighborhoods, it can happen that common areas located beyond neighborhood networks are without champions.

 

Furthermore, while the revised Bill reduces the maximum size of UEDs somewhat and might reduce their brightness, it contains two changes, easily lost among the document's 45 pages, that are rather troubling.  First, the requirement for Planning Commission review and approval of the design and spatial relationships has been eliminated.  Instead, the Commission is given an exclusively advisory role on design issues, while being charged with providing "technical assistance and input that are intended to facilitate development of the UED in promoting the UED's purpose and goals."  Second, it eliminates the requirement of an agreement between the "Applicant" for a UED and a governmental entity for a financial contribution to that governmental entity "to be used exclusively for public improvements in the immediate vicinity of the UED"  (e.g., sidewalk repairs; lighting; transit stations).  Instead, the Bill now attaches "community benefit agreements," which call for payments from Catalyst Outdoor, the UED operator who has been pushing for this legislation, directly to certain non-profits, with no requirements as to the use of such funds.  While difficult to conceive of because this legislation has been custom made for Catalyst Outdoor, independent of the carte blanche use of these funds (which some might characterize as a "payoff" in exchange for their support), should Catalyst Outdoor not be the successful Applicant, the Bill provides for no payments to any non-profits (or the City for that matter).

 

The revised Bill is scheduled for a vote this coming Thursday, March 26.  If a UED is unacceptable in our backyard, it should be all the more unwelcome in the City's common areas: sites set aside for everyone's benefit.  So having won the battles of 19th and Market and South Broad Street, CCRA is requesting again that its members contact Councilto express opposition to Bill 140696 . For a list of Council telephone numbers and emails hit this link.  And if you can, come to Room 400 of City Hall on Thurs., March 26, at 10:00 am to testify.  (It is suggested that you first call Councilman Squilla's office (215-686-3458) to get your name on the witness list.)



MARCH 13, 2015

ROCKY BALBOA WILL BE IN THE 'HOOD:  PARKING ISSUES SUN/MON

Film crews working on the 7th Rocky film will be parking equipment trucks and production vehicles from Sun. 6 PM through Mon. 6 PM on both sides of 25th St. between Spruce and Locust and both sides of Locust between 24th and 25th Streets.  As a result, these will be temporary NO PARKING zones.  We have been advised that free displacement parking will be available on Market St. between 20th and 22nd Streets.  Cars remaining in the restricted area during the 24-hour period will be relocated by the Police Dept.  Further information is contained in the attachedposter.  Questions about displacement parking should be addressed to Location Asst. Troy Coffee at 215-983-6298.  The film is titled "Creed," and is scheduled for release in November.  The following is a synopsis found on the internet:

 

Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died before he was born. Still, there's no denying that boxing is in his blood, so Adonis heads to Philadelphia, the site of Apollo Creed's legendary match with a tough upstart named Rocky Balboa. Once in the City of Brotherly Love, Adonis tracks Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) down and asks him to be his trainer. Despite his insistence that he is out of the fight game for good, Rocky sees in Adonis the strength and determination he had known in Apollo - the fierce rival who became his closest friend. Agreeing to take him on, Rocky trains the young fighter, even as the former champ is battling an opponent more deadly than any he faced in the ring. With Rocky in his corner, it isn't long before Adonis gets his own shot at the title... but can he develop not only the drive, but also the heart of a true fighter, in time to get into the ring?

CCD'S LATEST CENTER CITY HOUSING REPORT:  STRONG FOR ANOTHER 5 YEARS

The Center City District just issued its latest Report (click here to view CCD site) on housing in the "Center City Core" (Vine St. to Pine St.) and "Greater Center City" (Girard Ave. to Tasker St.).  Not surprisingly, given all the cranes and excavation sites we see daily, the Report states that 1,983 new units were brought to market in 2014, consisting of 1,358 apartments, 183 condominiums, and 442 single-family homes, and that "nearly all indicators suggest that demand has kept pace with supply and can support the additional units now under construction."  The Report includes interesting data on rental rates, sales, demographics, "in-movers," and major projects under construction and in the pipeline.  It concludes with a note of caution:  "Philadelphia has another five years of consistent regional demand from young people in the pipeline.  Then demographics drop off, unless we grow more jobs, retain more college students from other regions, and keep more residents in the city as their incomes rise.  Competitive tax policies and reliable funding for schools are the keys, not only to sustainable downtown housing demand, but also to the vitality of the entire city."


MARCH 6, 2015

JOHNSON-FEIBUSH DEBATE, CANCELLED DUE TO SNOW, WILL BE RESCHEDULED & PLEASE BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR AND SHOVEL YOUR SIDEWALKS PROMPTLY! AND IT'S THE LAW.

Finally, the weather liars got it right and Center City got the snow we had been promised!  In addition to the havoc it created for the Johnson-Feibush debate scheduled for Thursday, March 5, (STAY TUNED FOR RESCHEDULING DETAILS) the snow creates hazardous conditions for pedestrians and drivers alike.  Please comply with the Philadelphia City Ordinance regarding snow removal which follows:  §10-720. Snow Removal from Sidewalks. (1) The owner, agent and tenants of any building or premises shall clear a path of not less than 36 inches in width on all sidewalks abutting the building or premises within 6 hours after the snow has ceased to fall. The path shall be thoroughly cleared of snow and ice. Where the width of any pavement measured from the property line to the curb is less than 3 feet, the path cleared may be only 12 inches in width. When the building in question is a multifamily dwelling the owner or his agent shall be responsible for compliance with the requirements of this Section. 


PUBLIC MEETING WITH THE OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, MON, 4/27, 7PM, TRINITY CENTER FOR URBAN LIFE, 2212 SPRUCE ST

In response to neighborhood concerns, CCRA is pleased to announce that Samantha Phillips, Director of Philadelphia's Office of Emergency Management, will explain the City's plans and procedures in place for many situations, including should an accident occur on the Schuylkill tracks.  Following a brief presentation, there will be a monitored discussion with audience members.  Please submit questions to the Center City office atcentercity@centercityresidents.org.  And please keep in mind that freight rail traffic is regulated by the Federal Department of Transportation (DOT); the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the City government and CCRA do not have regulatory authority over CSX or its rights of way.  Attached is a brief information piece (drafted by our Treasurer, Walter Spencer) that you may find helpful.  



FEBRUARY 27, 2015

UED BILL MARCHING FORWARD DESPITE CCRA OPPOSITION

Last week we reported on a victory with respect to Council President Clarke's proposed reorganization plan.  This week, we tackled legislation involving "Urban Experiential Displays," 3-dimensional digital advertising displays, up to 58' high, that could be located at the Bellevue Garage on South Broad, the Convention Center, and across from the Reading Terminal Market.  (Thanks to CCRA's involvement last Fall, a 4th location, at the southeast corner of 19th and Market, was dropped.)   Click here to read a slightly edited version of a report to the CCRA Board provided by its dispirited President, Jeff Braff, upon his return from a Rules Committee hearing on Tuesday, after the Committee voted 7-0 in favor of the UED legislation.  (In contrast to last week's effort in connection with the reorganization legislation, CCRA was the only civic that testified at Tuesday's hearing.)


POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS TRAINS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

From time to time, an email is sent to CCRA regarding the dangers posed by the transport of hazardous chemicals by rail on the tracks that run along the Schuylkill River, CCRA's western boundary.  With the increased volume of highly visible and lengthy Bakken oil tank cars on these tracks, the emails have been more numerous.  They generally have been addressed on a piecemeal basis with a phone call or a return email that goes something like this:  "As a practical matter, there is little that CCRA can do to stop the trains, and rerouting them simply puts them in someone else's backyard.  This is a federal issue involving national energy policies and interstate commerce that the Executive Committee believes is beyond the Association's proper focus, especially given everything else we are working on and our limited resources."

 

At its most recent meeting (Feb. 3), the Ex. Com. decided that the Association should be more proactive on this issue and take two specific steps:  (1) work to ensure that the City has viable plans in place to deal with possible accidents along the Schuylkill tracks; and (2) educate our members about the federal regulations and who they should work with if they wish to try to stop or reroute the trains.  Consistent with the foregoing, attached is a brief information piece (drafted by our Treasurer, Walter Spencer) that you may find helpful.  In addition, we are in the midst of setting up a community meeting with a representative of the City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) so that the City can explain to us all how it would deal with a potential accident.  And we have advised members of Clean Water Action that we would be happy to promote an information session that they might hold in our neighborhood.  We will keep you posted regarding any such meetings/information sessions.

 

Finally, in the interest of providing further information, this past Sunday, The Philadelphia Inquirer had a lengthy piece on this issue. That article refers to Resolution 150129, introduced in City Council on Feb. 19 by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and unanimously passed yesterday which, among other things, urges the railroads to replace tank cars used to move flammable liquids that have not been retrofitted to meet new federal requirements and the highest safety standards; and "urges the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and OEM to work together to initiate emergency response workshops, and review and update the City's emergency response plan, evacuation routes, and hazardous materials response plan . . . within sixty days of resolution adoption."



FEBRUARY 20, 2015

PERSISTENCE AND COALITION BUILDING PAYS OFF:  CLARKE REORGANIZATION PLAN DELAYED

As reported here on Jan. 16, CCRA has been working actively with the Crosstown Coalition to slow down Bill 140721 and Resolution 140732, which would place a Charter change on the May ballot to drastically reorganize the agencies and commissions that control land use, economic development, and building safety (including Licenses and Inspections) by, among other things, placing them within a Dept. of Planning and Development, headed by a cabinet-level Director of Planning and Development. We raised concerns about a conflict of interest between L&I safety functions and the economic development focus of the proposed new department.  We also pointed out that this legislation was introduced the same day that a cross-disciplinary panel of experts had issued a 100-page report dealing with the Salvation Army building collapse calling for the creation of a Dept. of Buildings charged with public safety in permitting, construction, maintenance, and demolition that would be separate from agencies dealing with licensing/development/planning.  Obviously, the legislation could not have considered this detailed report or a subsequent 90-page report prepared by administration employees who deal with building safety issues, titled "2015 Plan for a Safer City," and we proposed the creation of an advisory commission to digest the competing proposals, collect the views of the various stakeholders, and make recommendations as to best practices.

 

To make a long story short, CCRA and the Crosstown Coalition put together a group that added family members of victims of the Salvation Army building collapse, the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, the Committee of Seventy and, perhaps most notably, The Development Workshop (an advocacy group for real estate developers which often takes positions contrary to those of civic associations), culminating last week in lobbying  each of the six Councilpersons sitting on the Committee on Law and Government (to which the legislation had been assigned) and, on Wednesday, a 9:30 press conference at City Hall, followed by live testimony before the Committee.  CCRA Pres. Jeff Braff was among the last to speak.  His testimony can best be summarized by his repeated question to the Committee: "This is important stuff.  What's the rush?!"  That question was never answered.  However, actions speak loader than words:  the Committee voted to amend the legislation by, among other things, removing L&I from the reorganization and pushing the proposed ballot referendum from May to November.  We are hopeful that the additional six months will enable an intelligent discussion of these important issues and result in better legislation.



EFFORTS TO OBTAIN UNIVERSAL PRE-K IN PHILA OR POLITICAL GRANDSTANDING

PCCY (Public Citizens For Children and Youth) is trying to generate 10,000 signatures on a petition asking City Council to let the voters decide to move forward to establish universal, high quality Pre-K for all 3- and 4-year olds in Philadelphia. The vote is scheduled for February 26th.  The petition asks City Council to pass Bill #150017 (unanimously voted out of Committee on Wed.) which would put on the primary ballot in May "an amendment to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter to provide for the creation, appointment, powers and duties of a Commission on Universal Pre-Kindergarten."  This independent Commission will prepare a report on how Philadelphia can accomplish what New York City did last year, giving every child the opportunity to start kindergarten ready to learn.

 

Many will say that this Bill is a misguided approach, that it already is well-established that universal Pre-K is well worth the cost (benefits include reduced need for special ed. services, reduced grade repetition, better performance, and fewer behavioral problems), and that the Pre-K issue must be addressed at the state level, especially since the Phila. School District cannot even fund its existing programs.  This line of thinking would add that creating a Philadelphia bureaucracy on this issue does not merit a Charter change, and it is a waste of both time and money, time and money that would be better spent on other educational issues, or supporting the statewide effort to procure universal Pre-K being led by Pre-K for PA, a coalition whose local prominent members include the Economy League of Greater Phila. and the United Way of Greater Phila.


FEBRUARY 13, 2015

THE HUDSON HOTEL AT 17TH AND CHANCELLOR:  THE FAT LADY MAY BE ABOUT TO SING AT LITTLE PETE'S

First things first. We write to dispel the unseemly  rumor that the Fat Lady's girth derives from the generous portions at Little Pete's situated at 17th and Chancellor, the site of a proposed 12 story, 310 room Hudson Hotel. Even so the Fat Lady has been seen at Pete's preparing to sing in anticipation of the curtain coming down on six months of complicated zoning negotiations.  On Tuesday night, subject to the signing  of an already negotiated Neighborhood Development Agreement (NDA), the CCRA Board  voted not to oppose pending City Council  legislation that would change the zoning of the 17th and Chancellor  parcel  (between  Walnut and Locust).  In addition to  Little Pete's, the plot contains, on 17th Street,  an adjacent nail salon and beauty parlor and, on Chancellor, a 4-story parking garage.  The hotel, a  modern-looking midrise would have underground parking, ground floor retail, a rooftop restaurant, and its main entrance on Chancellor.  The NDA addresses such items as lighting, landscaping, construction, noise, trash, loading, signage, bike racks, and parking for residents of the nearby Lanesborough condominium.

 

The vote culminates a lengthy process that began in August with the appointment of a CCRA Major Development Task Force, followed by an informal presentation by the developer to the Board, the Board's adoption of a formal policy regarding its handling of site-specific legislative zoning requests, the developer's engagement of Econsult Solutions to prepare a "Development Impact Analysis," a January 29 Community Meeting and presentation by the developer at 10th Presbyterian Church, and the negotiation of the NDA.   Under the agreement,  CCRA would be actively involved in additional design work and construction issues.   Of course,  CCRA's non-opposition to the legislation is neither a guarantee that it will be enacted, nor that the project will be built.


FEBRUARY 6, 2015

ANOTHER SUITOR FOR 19TH & WALNUT

In this column in May, a more romantic month,  we analogized the long vacant L shaped lot at  1907-1914 Walnut St. &   1906-1920 Sansom St to a lovely lass who had been dumped by a series of suitors - most recently Toll Brothers and, before that,  Castleway, an Irish developer, with a bit of the blarney.   Monday's Philadelphia Business Journal  reports that the latest gentleman caller is a Rhett Butler sort -  Southern Land Co. ,of Nashville, Tenn  which is developing a 28 story, 368 unit tower, at 3601 Market St.  According to the Journal,  Southern will  pay $30 million for the lady's hand,  a tidy sum but almost  $7 million less than  the parcel's last sale in 2007.  But Rhett's dowry would increase by $10 million if the bride had  a facelift, a nip here a tuck there,  in the form of more dense zoning.  Presently, the  zoning is  CMX-4 which carries a 500 FAR meaning that for a parcel with 1000 sq. ft, the developer may erect a 5000 sq. ft. building. The only denser zoning classification in the Code, CMX 5,  has an FAR of 12. The Journal reports that, without rezoning, Southern will  construct 220 apartments, 50 condos, 27,500 square feet of retail, and parking.  With rezoning, the Journal states that residential units would increase to 360 apartments and 65 condos.

 

The Business Journal's account of the latest tryst  stated that Southern " . . .  has met with city planners and the Center City Residents' Association and 'there appears to be support for a rezoning, as they both want the site developed'".  It is true that CCRA would like to see the site developed. It is also true that, in November, CCRA's President and the Chair of CCRA's Task Force had an informal "getting to know you" meeting with Southern. Even so,  CCRA has never advised anyone, let alone the Southern team,  that the Association supports rezoning of this parcel, a point corroborated by Southern's attorney who, after reading the article, called CCRA President Jeff Braff to affirm that Southern acknowledges that CCRA has not taken a position on the parcel's zoning.

 

As for now, an anxious public asks "Will she (seek rezoning) or won't she?" 

JANUARY 23, 2015

NUTTER'S WONKIPEDIA ENTRY

Politicians know that you don't have to be dead to leave a legacy, and Michael Nutter is no exception. The administration has published the "Tale of the Tape:" 24 pages of graphs, statistics, and bar charts comparing the Nutter years against those of Street, Rendell, and Goode. Spoiler alert!  The stats are flattering.

  • Population Growth: After more than 50 years of population decline, the City grew for seven consecutive years during Nutter's watch, an increase of 3.6 %. By contrast Goode presided over a 3.6% decline, Rendell saw 3.5% depart, and 1.6% left Street's Philadelphia. 
  • Wage Tax Decline: The figures on wage tax decline are creditable, but not outstanding.  The tax went down 7% during the Rendell years, decreased a further 7.2% during the Street years, but only fell  6.2% during the Nutter years to the current level of 3.4915%, down from 4.96% in 1992. 
  • Bond Rating Improvements: After Wilson Goode bombed the City literally and financially, bond ratings plummeted to as low as CCC (Very High Risk). Ratings slowly turned around during the Rendell/Street years so that in 2010, Street's last year,  the City tiptoed into the lower regions of the A categories. Nutter saw continued improvement to a solid A from all three rating firms in 2013 and 2014. 
  • Starving The Beast: Wilson Goode assumed office in 1984, presiding over a full-time workforce of 30,387. Those numbers dropped .9% during the Rendell years, and 4.7% during Street's incumbency, while Nutter cut 3% off the payroll, bringing current full-time City employees to 27,008.

All autobiographies are partially fictional, not so much because of what is committed to the written page, but because of what is omitted.  Here again, Michael Nutter is no exception. The "Tale of the Tape" neglects to mention that realty taxes rose 17.3 % over a period of three consecutive years during the Nutter mayoralty.  Even so, both the Pew Trust and the Center City District have observed that the percentage of revenues the City derives from realty taxes remains dramatically lower than in comparable cities so that,  even taking into account the Nutter tax increases, the City receives proportionately less of its revenue by way of realty taxes than its counterparts.


JANUARY 16, 2015

CCRA/CROSSTOWN COALITION TO COUNCIL: SLOW DOWN, LIVES ARE AT STAKE

They're at it again. Last Fall, City Council unanimously decided not to hold public hearings about the conflicting reports discussing the PGW sale. They are taking a similar approach on Resolution 140732, the proposed reorganization of the City's land use/development boards and agencies, including Licenses and Inspections. Except the PGW story was about money: this time lives are at stake.


The background: To his credit, Council President Clarke proactively unveiled a proposal on September 25 to reorganize the agencies and commissions that control land use, building safety and development by placing them all under a cabinet level Director of Planning and Development. But September 25 was the same day that a cross - disciplinary panel of experts, chaired by Professor Glenn Corbett of New York's  John Jay College at CUNY, issued its 100 page report dealing with the Salvation Army building collapse at 22nd and Market. That catastrophe killed six people. The Corbett report calls for the creation of a Department of Buildings charged with public safety in permitting, construction, maintenance and demolition AND, contrary to the Clarke proposal, separated from those agencies dealing with licensing/development/planning.  
January 9 saw the publication of a second report, 90 pages long,  titled "2015 Plan for a Safer City," prepared by the administration employees who deal with building safety issues. It provides a divergent take on the questions raised.

 

As the page volume of these reports suggest, the issues raised are complex.  It's no surprise that ALL the witnesses at the Bill's committee hearings testified "yes but" - Yes it makes sense to have a cabinet level Director of Development, but this is a complicated problem that needs further discussion.  

 

Both CCRA and The Crosstown Coalition have written Council requesting  that the Bill be tabled and that hearings be held so that the public (and Council) can debate the many issues raised by this creditable but complicated proposal. The Salvation Army tragedy killed six people. The balcony collapse on 21st street killed a seventh. The only response must be "Never Again." But to achieve the goal of "never," we must act with care and deliberation. 


JANUARY 9, 2015

  NEW COMMUNITY MEALS PROGRAM SEEKS FUNDS/ VOLUNTEERS

The congregations which opened their sanctuaries for CCRA's Sacred Spaces tour this December have launched a new collaboration, a project to serve noontime meals each Friday commencing February 6 at the Stevens Center of the Lutheran Church, 2111 Sansom St. The interfaith group seeks volunteers and funds - $250.00 will cover the expense of one meal.  Tax deductible contributions can be made to "The Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion" and mailed to 2111 Sansom St. Phila 19103 marked "Community Meals".

 

Volunteers should contact rectortmc@gmail.com. Help is needed for:

1.      1.     Greeters/hospitality coordinators: 11:30 to 1:30 pm

2.      2.     Kitchen workers: 9:30 am to Noon.

3.      3.     Servers: 11am to 1pm.  

4.      4.     Clean up workers: 12:30 to 2:30 pm. OR to

5.      5.     Deliver pre prepared meals (the group has recipes for 25 people for those interested delivering a meal).

DECEMBER 19, 2014

CROSSTOWN CATCHMENT CHARTER SCHL DISCUSSION: SAT 12/20 11AM JEFF U. ALUMNI HALL 10TH & LOC.

Sponsors of a proposed K- 12 charter school which would  primarily target students from the Vine to Pine zip codes (19102, 03, 06 and 07) will present their plans tomorrow at Jefferson's Solis Cohen Auditorium on the south side of Locust betw. 10th & 11th streets (click here to view flyer).  The charter applicant, MaST (click here to visit site) operates a K -12 school  on Byberry Road in the Northeast which was rated  86 on  the Pennsylvania Dept. of Education School Performance ranking, a result which  compares favorably  both to neighborhood schools such as Greenfield (72), Mc Call (83)  and Meredith (78) and to nearby charters such as Independence  and Russell Byers (both at 74).  Most Charters (including Byers, Independence and MaST's Byberry Rd. school) select their student body by a lottery. Students at these charter schools reside in  communities spread throughout the City. Consequently, traditional charters are less likely to nurture  the neighborhood networking fostered by successful  catchment based schools such as Greenfield. The  MaST proposal  gives priority to applicants from zips 19102, 03, 06 and 07 (Vine to Pine). If  slots remain, then seats are available  to students from surrounding communities, so that the next backup  catchment area is comprised of zips to the north (19130 - Fairmount, Spring Garden, Franklintown and 19123 -  Old City, Northern Liberties) and to the south (19146 - Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze and 19147 - Queen Village, Bella Vista, Italian Market). In addition to providing the novelty of a  catchment based charter option, MaST's  K-12 format would provide the downtown area its only catchment based high school

DECEMBER 12, 2014

NEW POL/CCRA DIALOGUE: NO MORE "ASK ME NO QUESTIONS AND . . ."
In the past CCRA has not presented questions to the candidates perhaps with an eye towards the Andrews sisters classic (updated by Lynrd Skynrd): "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies". This time around, CCRA has adopted a set of questions for the May 2015 primary for Mayor and all 17 council seats. The questionnaire has been circulated to other civics in the hope that they will adopt some or all of the questions so that the candidates will face a common set of issues wherever they travel in the City.

The questions were drafted to be:
Pointed: ("Should the ten year realty tax abatement continue as is?") not open ended ("What will you do about waste, fraud and corruption?")
Understandable: Preambles contain pro and con considerations.
Germane: We focused on topics the officeholder is likely to face although we bent that rule by inserting Question 17 dealing with a hot topic, schools, even though Mayor and Council have little direct control.
The questions address a moving target. Some will have to be revised or eliminated as events change over the months. For example, question 5 asks whether the candidate approves of the PGW- UIL sale, a transaction which has disappeared. We are currently working on a revision.

If you have any thoughts, suggestions etc. regarding these questions please email the office at centercity@centercityresidents.org with
"Candidate Q's" in the subject line.

REPORT RECOMMENDS A "VISION ZERO" POLICY ON TRAFFIC CRASH INJURIES/FATALITIES

Traffic crashes involving pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers cost the City about $1 billion per year. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia "Safer Streets Philadelphia" report urges the next Mayor and City Council to adopt a targeted program addressing dangerous locations in the City. The goal: reducing all traffic injuries and fatalities by 50% by 2020 - with the eventual goal of zero deaths, also known as a "Vision Zero" policy. Report data shows the vulnerability of Philadelphia's pedestrians and cyclists and compares our relatively meager streets/sidewalk/protected bike lane investments to peer cities.  These issues will become more important once Bike Share launches in the Spring with its attendant increase in cyclists on City streets. The report concludes: "For many years, Philadelphia has led the nation as a bicycle-friendly and pedestrian-friendly city.  Other cities . . . are making their pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure a priority and are quickly closing the gap.  To maintain its competitive advantage, Philadelphia must increase its own investment in its road, sidewalk, and bicycle networks." 




 


DECEMBER 5, 2014

HUDSON HOTEL ZONING LEGISLATION PULLED

Our November 13 column, "Little Pete's and the Lady or the Tiger", discussed Councilman Kenyatta Johnson's  site specific  bill to rezone the southeast corner of 17th and Chancellor (betw. Locust and Walnut) to enable the construction of a 12-story 300-room hotel.  The current zoning would only permit five stories and, in the absence of the Johnson bill, the developer would have to obtain a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment for both height and elimination of an off-street loading requirement. On Tuesday, the bill was scheduled for public hearing by the Rules Committee. CCRA was prepared to testify  on the procedural question  - that it was not appropriate  for the developers to circumvent the Zoning Board of Adjustment -  without opining on the specifics of the project.  However, Councilman Johnson pulled the legislation so that, even if it is reactivated,  the bill cannot be passed until late January.  The Association was advised that the bill was pulled because of pressure from Local 274 of the hotel and restaurant workers' union, which had been seeking a "neutrality agreement" with the hotel operator - a demonstration of the relative power in City Hall of unions, a lot,  and of  the community, not so much. We will keep you posted.


NOVEMBER 21, 2014

PROPOSED CHARTER SCHOOL IN CENTER CITY FOR CENTER CITY

MaST (Math Science & Technology) Community Charter School, designated the highest performing K-12 school in Philadelphia, has applied to open a 1500 student K - 12 Center City charter school in which 80% of the students would reside in Center City zip codes.  Most charter schools are lottery-based, so a substantial portion of their students do not reside in the community where the school is located.  The proposed school has a catchment area-based model which would draw children from the downtown communities. 


MaST presently operates a 1,300 student K-12 school in the Northeast at 1800 East Byberry Road that has been recognized both locally and nationally for their innovative use of technology and their "STREAM" curriculum-science, technology, robotics, engineering, art, and mathematics.  (For more information on MaST, visit their website, www.mastccs.org.)  MaST advises that its senior class has a 95% college acceptance rate even though approximately 40% of the student body is deemed economically disadvantaged.


According to press reports, 40 applicants are seeking charters and only a small number are expected to be awarded. The MaST team is seeking public support for its application. If you  want more inforration or are interested in supporting their school, visit website  www.mastcentercity.org, which includes a "Join Our Support List" link. 


SMOKE-FREE PARK SIGNS SPOTTED IN RITTENHOUSE SQUARE

 

Recent visitors to the Square may have noticed some new additions.  This past April, Mayor Nutter signed an Executive Order declaring all city-owned parks (including neighborhood and watershed parks) smoke-free (an extension of a 2011 Executive Order that declared recreation centers, pools, and playgrounds smoke-free).  The current initiative has been enacted by Parks & Recreation and the Department of Public Health and is relying heavily on community education and awareness (by the way, how many are aware that, perwww.smokefreephilly.org, farmers' markets operated by The Food Trust and Farm to City are also smoke-free?)  The new signs are a step in the direction towards compliance with the April 2014 Order.  Keep an eye out for future efforts and, if you believe in everyone's right to breathe clean air (and especially our children for whom the Square is a "backyard"), help spread the word.


 

NOVEMBER 13, 2014

 

LITTLE PETE'S AND THE LADY OR THE TIGER

Our August column headlined  "Zoning Trends: Rule of Law or Legislators" discussed what was then a merely academic question: Whether  large developments not conforming to Code requirements should be processed by law via the Zoning Code through the Zoning Board of  Adjustment  or whether such non Code compliant  projects should be ruled by legislators and greenlighted by City Council ordinances.


In October, the CCRA Board  resolved  that projects not in compliance with existing zoning should seek relief through the Zoning Board of Adjustment  rather than through Council ordinancesexcept in "Extraordinary Circumstances", a term very narrowly defined in the policy provisions (click here to view document). At the same time, a task force was appointed to attempt to expedite comprehensive remapping of the zoning in our neighborhood to bring it up to date.  (Remapping of the entire City is contemplated by the new Zoning code that went into effect in August of 2012.)


This Code v. Council question is academic no longer. At issue is a  proposed 12 story 300 unit Hudson Hotel on the southeast corner of 17th & Chancellor (betw. Locust & Walnut). Click here to view picture. The parcel presently contains Little Pete's restaurant and an adjacent nails salon and beauty parlor on 17th and, on Chancellor, a parking garage.  Councilman Kenyatta Johnson has introduced legislation converting the zoning classification from CMX-4  to CMX -5.  CMX -4  permits a 500% FAR (floor area ratio) - meaning that a building taking up the entire footprint of the property could only be 5 stories tall. CMX -5 has a  1200% FAR which accommodates the planned structure EXCEPT the project would still not conform to CMX-5's  off street vehicle loading requirements.  Not to worry. Theproposed  ordinance also eliminates those loading requirements. It is good to be king.


The issue presented is very Lady or Tiger. Behind Door One is the Lady - a modern midrise with  a  rooftop restaurant,  underground parking, and  ground floor retail with a main entrance on Chancellor Street,  thereby enhancing what is now an uninviting  and  threadbare thoroughfare.  Behind Door Two is the Tiger - the danger of embracing ad hoc site-specific legislative zoning.  

 

The Association expects  to convene a public meeting regarding the proposal in early December. Stay tuned. 



PINNING 2015 MAYORAL CANDIDATES DOWN ON BIKING, WALKING, PARKING ISSUES:  COMMENT DEADLINE 11/21

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia held a "listening session" this past Monday to discuss their "Better Mobility 2015" draft report, a series of recommendations the Coalition and other groups intend to give to the 2015 Philadelphia mayoral candidates.  Before the meeting, BCGP released its draft report online. About 20 people came to the meeting and shared their thoughts, including the following suggestions:

  • More Bike Parking: It was noted that there are certain sections of the City where there simply aren't enough bike racks.
  • New Infrastructure: Things like protected bike lanes (lanes physically separated from the street) and bicycle-only streets were high on the minds of many in attendance. Studies have found that when protected bike lanes are implemented, they improve the safety of not just cyclists, but drivers and pedestrians, as well. 
  • A Vision Zero Policy: The Bicycle Coalition and its partners have a goal of zero traffic deaths in Philadelphia. While zero is the goal, the Coalition believes the benchmark of cutting the number of deaths in half by 2020 is achievable.
  • Sunday Parking: Some cyclists believe churchgoer-parking in the Spruce and Pine bike lanes on Sundays sets a bad precedent. 

You can read a report of the meeting here. The Coalition is taking additional comments on the draft report through November 21. Email them at bike@bicyclecoalition.org  or tweet them at @bcgp using the hashtag #BetterMobility2015.




NOVEMBER 7, 2014

CCRA TO COUNCIL:  DEAL WITH YOUR GAS PROBLEM

Between meetings of the Board of Directors, CCRA's Executive Committee is empowered to act on behalf of the Board.  On Wednesday, the EC unanimously approved a motion to communicate to City Council the Association's extreme displeasure with the manner in which Council handled the proposed sale of PGW;  more specifically, its failure to hold public hearings and to go on record with a public vote.  The Association has not taken a position on the merits of the proposed sale.  It would be irresponsible to do so without hearing the opinions of our elected representatives and of our fellow Philadelphians, as well as responses from the proposed purchaser to the report issued by Council's consultant (much of which was not adverse to the sale).  Click here to read CCRA's letter to Council President Clarke, a copy of which was sent to all members of Council.  The manner in which this was handled has made it appear to many that the proposed sale was doomed from the start due to animosity between Council and Mayor Nutter, with little regard for the best interests of the City.  As Mayor Nutter observed:  "No big city with hopes of attracting business, jobs, and investment conducts business in such a fashion."  We are hopeful that Council will reconsider its action and:  introduce the administration's proposed legislation; convene public hearings on that legislation; and hold a public vote.


OCTOBER 31, 2014

TUES NOV 4TH:  NEW  POLLING PLACE FOR ALL WHO VOTED AT RADISSON/WARWICK AND STERLING APTS AND FOR SOME WHO VOTED AT SIDNEY HILLMAN, S. 22ND

All those who voted  at the Radisson Hotel on 17th and Walnut(known to old timers as the Warwick) and the Sterling Apts, 1815 JFK, have new polling places. In addition, some who had voted at the Sidney Hillman apartments on South 22nd St. have a new polling venue. See the schedule below:



DIV.           OLD POLL                        NEW POLL

5                Radisson/Warwick            100 S. Broad

                                                          Land Title Bldg.

6                Radisson/Warwick            1701 Delancey St

                                                         10th Presby Church

9                Sidney Hillman Res.          2308 Ranstead

                  22 S. 22nd St.                   (btw Mkt. & Chest.) Armory  

11              Radisson/Warwick             100 S. Broad

                                                          Land Title Bldg.

17               Sterling Apts                     Atria Seniors' Home

                                                          150 N. 20th 

20               Warwick                           1701 Delancey St

                                                           10th Presby Church


 If you are uncertain as to what division you reside in, click here or consult the enclosed map of divisions  in the 8th ward where the polling changes are taking place.



GREEN THUMBS UP FOR CCRA AWARD WINNING GARDENERS

Our very own Schuylkill River Park Community Garden (25th and Spruce Streets) has been awarded the Blue Ribbon in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's 2014 Gardening and Greening Contest.  The SRPCG was selected from over 350 entries.  In December, members of the Garden Steering Committee will travel to the Governor's Mansion in Harrisburg to receive the award.  A hearty congratulations to the gardeners!  For more information about the Garden and how to obtain a plot, please go to www.srpcg.org.  More information about the PHS Gardening and Greening Contest can be found at www.phsonline.org/gardening/ggcontest.


OCTOBER 17, 2014

ARTIST SELECTED TO DESIGN 22ND AND MARKET MEMORIAL

The effort to build a memorial park on the site where six people were tragically killed in the collapse of the Salvation Army thrift store on June 5, 2013 moved a step forward with the selection of Barbara Fox to design the center piece, a memorial sculpture.  Fox, a 1988 graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, will now join a team headed by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society to design and complete the park.  As for her winning concept, Fox says she wanted the families to be able to personalize the memorial for themselves. "My idea was to have windows in a house-shaped piece, and each victim's family could customize how the window would look so that it would mean something to them, like the color of the glass or the texture of the glass. The name of each of the six victims would be etched into the granite over each window. Then, there would be a seventh window for individuals who were injured in the collapse. Above that window it would say 'for those we remember'. "

 

Although the Salvation Army donated the land for the park to the City, the 22nd and Market Memorial Committee, on which CCRA sits as an observer, has been conducting a fund-raising campaign to generate the money to pay for construction, estimated to cost about $600,000.  About $220,000 has been either collected or pledged to date.  There also have been a number of gifts-in-kind that have been pledged.  Those wishing to contribute to the park construction are asked to visit  www.pennhort.net/memorial. For more information about Fox and the design competition click here.


OCTOBER 10, 2014

SPEAK UP FOR NEIGHBORHOOD SPOKES BY 10/20

As we have reported here previously, the City has proposed about 100 potential locations for bike share bike stations (each equipped to hold 10-20 bikes) and has requested feedback before the number is whittled down to 60.  These locations have been marked on sidewalks with stencils and also appear atwww.phlbikesharemap.com, (a site which favors Mozilla and Chrome browsers over Internet Explorer),  which also contains information about the upcoming bike share program and how the station locations will be finalized. The siting of the stations is made particularly difficult by the fact that our sidewalks are relatively narrow compared to other large cities who have successfully implemented bike share (e.g., New York and Chicago), and the City's desire not to take away on-street parking spots.  Only eight of the proposed stations are within CCRA's boundaries:

      22nd and Market

19th and South
      24th and Sansom SW Cor. of Ritt. Sq.
      Taney & Pine (Markward
      Rec. Ctr.)
NE Cor. of Ritt. Sq.
      15th and Walnut 23rd and South 

f you are in favor of bike share and want to have conveniently located stations, be sure to record your views before Oct. 20.

OCTOBER 3, 2014

HIGHLINE SMIGHLINE, REVEL DEVIL: STROLL THE BOARDS THIS SUN AT SCHUYLKILL PARK

Enough about the AC casino closures. Forget that elevated walkway in the country's second largest city (as of 1776). The CCRA family's   very  own boardwalk opened  on Thursdayat the foot of Spruce Street in Schuylkill River Park. Attending  the  ribbon cutting were  Mayor Michael Nutter, Congressman Chaka Fattah, and Schuylkill River Development Council's Chair Jerry Sweeney (also the Pres./CEO of Brandywine Real Estate Trust , developer of the  CIRA and EVO towers and the soon to be built 47 story FMC tower, all of which will overlook the boardwalk from the western banks of the Schuylkill).   


On Sunday from 1 to 2 pm, it's Boardwalk Empire on the Schuylkill. Bring your inner Steve Buscemi or,  better still, Kelly MacDonald, and stroll the boards to the tunes of a live Dixieland band. Free refreshments - lemonade, iced tea, popcorn, cotton candy, salt water taffy, this being a boardwalk,  and, this being in Philadelphia, soft pretzels. Face painters and caricaturists will also be on board(walk).



SEPTEMBER 26, 2014

CCRA ADVOCATES FOR HATE CRIMES PROTECTION IN SB 42

In response to the September 11 attack at 16th & Chancellor, CCRA Executive Vice President Maggie Mund testified in Harrisburg on Wednesday September 23 urging quick action on Pa. Senate Bill 42, sponsored by Senator Larry Farnese of Center City. The bill extends the protections of current hate crimes legislation to gay, lesbian, bi and transsexual citizens. Maggie's remarks on behalf of CCRA are contained in this link.

 

Two days later, CCRA Vice President Chuck Goodwin spoke in support of the legislation at a Love Park rally organized by our State Rep. Brian Sims. The elected officials who spoke included DA Seth Williams, Senator Farnese and Council members Kenney and Reynolds-Brown. In addition, representatives of the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission, William Way, EqualityPA, GALEI, and the transgender community as well as Caryn Kunkle, a friend and spokesperson for the victims, spoke at the rally. Chuck's statement on behalf of CCRA is contained in this link.


SEPTEMBER 18

LINCOLN & BUTT BLISTERS: VOTER REGISTRATION VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

 

"Elections belong to the people.  . .. . If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters."  --Abraham Lincoln

 


Honest Abe, a farmboy not above scatological references, could have been talking about  Harrisburg and the school funding crisis - a butt blister which arises  in no small  part because Philadelphia voters  have "turned our back on the fire." For presidential elections, Philadelphians punch their weight. We comprise an eighth of the state's population  and one out of every 8 Pennsylvania presidential votes comes from Philadelphia.  In off years such as 2014, our performance drops off. In the last gubernatorial race, 60,000 Philadelphia voters "disappeared" so that Philadelphia's share of the 2010 vote dropped to 10.5%. Take it from Abe, the more Philadelphians who  vote  this November 4, the more influence our city will have in Harrisburg, regardless of who is elected governor. 


Many of those disappearing voters live in Center City where more than 40% of the residents are millennials.  Commissioner Stephanie Singer,  whose office maintains the City's voting records, advises that only 13% of this age cohort voted in November of 2013.

 

Now is not the time to turn our backs to the fire. If you are interested in helping to "find" those 60,000 Philadelphia voters who "disappeared" in 2010, sign up with the Crosstown Citizen Alliance's nonpartisan voter registration drive.  Click here to see what dates, times and locations need to be filled and call Joe Driscoll, 908-278-5352 or email joe@crosstownvotes.org.


IT'S DON'T TEXT & DRIVE DAY  

Texting while driving is dangerous, illegal, and an increasing cause of  auto fatalities and injuries. Today is "Don't Text and Drive - It can Wait" Day. Join more than five million others who have taken a no texting while driving pledge by adopting these suggestions from CCRA sponsor AT &T:

  •  #X: By posting #X before you drive, your friends know you're about to drive and can't respond . On September 19 especially, make #X trend across social networks. Use  photos and video to spur your friends to adopt the  #X habit. 
  • Use technology like the simple to use AT&T DriveMode® app, which blocks text messages while you are driving and informs those trying to reach that you are driving and  will respond once the trip ends. These apps also help spread the word, letting others know about their availability.
  • Text your pledge! Text the keyword 'icwpa' to 464329. You'll receive a text response/confirmation!  In Pennsylvania, the pledge - and the text - are free!

Learn more about #X and how you can get involved at ItCanWait.com




SEPTEMBER 5, 2014


FINGERS, LOCUST STREET RAIL CROSSING TO OPEN

Soon our neighborhood will have its very own version of the venue immortalized in the Drifter's 1964 hit, a  boardwalk on the Schuylkill River Trail commencing just south of Locust Street extending  to the  South Street Bridge.  At a September 3 pre-opening "tour," Schuylkill River Development Corporation President Joe Syrnick announced that the contract completion date is Sept. 22. but the official opening (with politicos and appropriate fanfare) has yet to be scheduled.  The 2,000 foot long concrete structure runs parallel to the eastern shore of the river and affords two connections from the trail to the bridge - a 460 foot long ramp ascending from the boardwalk to the bridge surface on the north side of the bridge and, on the south side, a pedestrian stairway with accompanying bike trough.  Both the ramp and boardwalk can accommodate emergency and maintenance vehicles, and the boardwalk's 15 foot wide pathway is supplemented by overlooks allowing users to enjoy the views without blocking the path.


In a related development, the railroad crossing to the Trail at Locust Street, which has been locked shut with chains for weeks, should be open mid-month.  According to the Streets Dept., it has been locked due to problems with the motors that open and close the safety gates.




AUGUST 22, 2014


HOTELS ON TOP OF HOTELS AT 15TH & CHESTNUT

On the Monopoly board, even on Park Place, only one hotel can be placed on a property. But the developers at 1441 Chestnut, currently a parking lot south of the Residences at the Ritz, must have picked up one of those bonus cards, like the one that reads "Your building loan matures - collect $150" because they are building two name brand hotels on the same parcel - a 51 story structure containing a W Hotel with 295 guestrooms, an outdoor pool and deck with accompanying bar AND a 460 guestroom Westin Element Hotel, with a 4200 square foot sky lobby (click here to view picture).Both hotels have entrances on Chestnut Street but the lobby of the Element Hotel is situated on the second floor while the W lobby occupies the first floor. In addition to the two hotel entry ways, the Chestnut street façade will house the entrance of a restaurant on the stretch closest to Broad Street. The plans also call for 1700 square feet of retail at the corner of 15th and Chestnut and 179 below grade parking spaces. The developers are aiming for LEED certification


AUGUST 15, 2014


DEMOLITION CREWS ON RITTENHOUSE SQUARE

Demolition  will commence shortly at the McIlhenny Mansion, situated on two parcels, 1914  and 1916 Rittenhouse Square, located on the Square's  southwest corner. When the dust has settled,  the one story curved brick façade and dome at 1916 erected in 1957 will be gone. The planned replacement is  a four story 47 foot high addition. The addition's roofline  will match that of the mansion's other property, 1914 Rittenhouse Square, erected in 1859 with three stories capped by a one story mansard roof with dormer windows. The façade of 1914 is to remain unchanged.   The mansion's back entrance on Manning Street currently consists of a single story structure, a garage with a  double width  door adjacent to a servant's entrance. The plans call for  a two story structure on the western end with bedrooms atop two oversize garage entrances. On the eastern side, the addition will rise a third story above Manning Street (click here to view the plans).

 

These impending  changes have proceeded at a stately Philadelphia pace. Henry McIlhenny passed away in 1986. Even now, 28 years later, all remains quiet at  1912,  with its curved grand stairway ascending from the sidewalk. And the proposed elimination of the domed structure at 1916 has been a long time coming. Twelve years elapsed before the estate sold the three parcels comprising the "mansion".  Another 16 years passed  before 1914 and 1916  were resold to the current owner whose plans to eliminate the domed pavilion and replace it with a four story structure similar to earlier plans which set off  a spate of litigation that culminated in 2002.  The earlier plans to replace the domed structure with a four story townhouse were approved both by the Historic Commission with conditions in 1999 and by the Zoning Board of Adjustment in 2000. The ZBA decision was appealed to the Court of Common Pleas which overturned the ZBA but the Common Pleas decision was, in turn, reversed by a 2002  Commonwealth Court opinion approving the variances enabling the construction plans.

 

What would be Henry McIlhenny's take on the elimination of his 1957 addition? It might upset him but maybe not. He  was known  both as an art collector and as Chairman of the Board of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Further, he was  a  celebrated  bon vivant - according to Andy Warhol, he of Pittsburgh, McIlhenny was "the only person in Philadelphia with glamour." But McIlhenny can also be seen as the original gentrifier, a mid 20th century yuppie. He  moved into the City and purchased the three properties in the 1950's when everyone was moving out. So it may be that somewhere in yuppie heaven Henry is looking down on all this with a smile of approval.


AUGUST 8, 2014

 

ZONING TRENDS: RULE OF LAW OR LEGISLATORS?

Recent proposals for large projects in Center City raise a troubling procedural question, should large developments be ruled by law or by legislators? Less dramatically put, should new developments be regulated through the City's recently revamped Zoning Code, enacted in 2012, or should development proposals be green-lighted by Council ordinance approving buildings which fail to conform to the Code's provisions?


 A developer advocating a building which does not conform to the Code has a choice - the legal track or the legislative track. The legal option is really more like an Olympic track set up with hurdles, three to be exact - review by Licenses and Inspections, then a mandated appearance before the local registered community organizations (in our neighborhood, that's CCRA), and finally an appearance before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Not only does the legal road present hurdles, it is a toll road: payment is tendered in time (all these steps means delay) and lawyers fees. By contrast, the legislative road  typically presents only one hurdle - the area's District Councilperson. More often than not, when a Councilperson pitches a project in their district, the other 16 Council members defer. No offense intended but it's a  human response - you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.  


From the developer's perspective, the legal route involves all those nit picking height, density, and parking requirements and hearings where knowledgeable people on the Zoning Board of Adjustment  ask pointed questions. Who needs that when you can get the law changed by City Council, the same wonderful folks who passed the legislation which called for the planning standards and those pesky hearings in the first place?


So far, in our neighborhood, the legislative work arounds have been benign. Developers seeking an ordinance have presented to the Association's zoning committee in much the same fashion as if they had been pursuing a Zoning Code variance, although, without the ZBA to back up community requests, the disclosures are more likely to be sub-par. Even so,  there is no guaranty that all legislative work arounds will be handled so responsibly. And the work around approach raises issues of equity. Joe and Judy Townhomeowner who want to build a back yard addition  not in conformity with the existing zoning are far less likely to have an entrée into Council chambers than Harry Hotelier who has plans for a high rise Hilton.


All 17 members of City Council are up for election this year. It might be wise for our neighborhood to inquire of each candidate their position on this zoning by Code v. zoning by Council issue.  



AUGUST 1, 2014


NID BID RID

Our neighbors to the east in Washington Square recently nixed a plan to implement a NID, a Neighborhood Improvement District. NIDs are also known as Special Improvement Districts (SIDs) and  Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).  The leading Philadelphia improvement district is the  Center City District (CCD) which  started in 1990 with boundaries including a significant slice of our neighborhood and more than 5000 properties (click here to view map). Improvement District programs  share a common  model -  members pay an incremental  sum in their realty taxes. These assessments  are spent by a board elected by the ID's  membership. Typically Improvement District boards focus on quality of life amenities such as those supplied by the CCD- street cleaning, public safety, public area improvements (street lights, planters).  IDs  are implemented via City Council ordinances after a public process that involves two community hearings and notification of all property owners and tenants in the proposed district.


Even though IDs  contract  with the City to ensure the level of city services provided in the ID area remain the same, critics ask why ID members should pay assessments  to fund services commonly thought to be subsumed in the City's job description.  In response, ID advocates assert that improvement district embellishments  more than repay the extra cost of ID  assessments.  And non governmental organizations like NIDs have a disconcerting way of out-performing City agencies, at least in Philadelphia where government performance can set a low bar.  Two jewels of the Philadelphia park system, Schuylkill Banks Park and Sister Cities Park at 18th and the Parkway are operated not by the City's Parks and Recreation Department but, respectively,  by  the Schuylkill River Development Corporation,  a self-described  public/private partnership with a board whose private sector representatives outnumber City employees  6 to 1,  and The Center City District, a BID. And this is not to mention Spruce Street Harbor Park, another private initiative or, closer to home, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's pop-up park at 1438 South Street. For Philadelphia neighborhoods such as Wash West or our community, the question presented by NID implementation is whether we are willing to pay more to get more.


JULY 18, 2014

WANT A CAB?   CALL  DC

Taxis   "throb and wait" at the 'purple hour', TS Elliot's term for the end of the workday. But all  that  throbbing was  in the Wasteland, not in  Philadelphia where the limits on the number of medallions ensure that waiting taxis can be hard to find  at rush hour . Crosstown Coalition delegate and Plan Philly journalist, Jon Geeting, writes that Philly ranks near  the bottom in cabs per capita  among our counterpart cities (click here to read the article). For every 1000 residents, Washington D. C. has 12 cabs , Chicago has 2.6, New York has 1.6 (and the nation's most extensive subway system). Among this foursome,  Philly comes in last at 1.12 cabs per thousand, 30% less than New York and 57 % of the number found in Chicago. Our cab to citizen ratio is similar to that of southwestern sprawlplexes - Houston, Los Angeles, and Dallas - where distances encourage citizens to travel in their private vehicles . While taxi availability varies widely among cities, taxi fares are similar in urban areas with classic downtown cores . A two mile trip costs $7.07 in Philadelphia plus $2.30 per additional mile, $7.70 in DC plus $2.16 per extra mile, and $6.50 in NYC plus $4.00  for each extra mile. By contrast, Angelenos pay  $7.95 for a two mile trip in LA and $2.70 for each  additional mile. Whose responsible for our cabbie population? Everyone's favorite municipal piñata, the Parking Authority.

 

JULY 11, 2014


VOTE TO LOCATE STANDS FOR BICYCLES BUILT FOR TWO (THOUSAND)

Next Spring, the City will locate 150 to 200 bikeshare stations, each a minimum of 7' x 35',  containing as many as 2000 bikes available for short term rental.  You can register your vote as to where bikeshare stations should be located  on line at phlbikesharemap.com (a site that favors Mozilla and Chrome browsers over Internet Explorer). The site contains a map of the City dotted with blue icons, each of which represents a suggested bike station location. Click on the icon to learn the address of the suggested location and, in the upper left hand corner, the number of votes garnered by the location. To determine which locations have gathered the most votes, move your cursor to the arrow on the scale labeled "Filter by Popularity" in the lower right of the page depicting the City map. As you move the arrow to the right, the locations with the least votes are eliminated. You can create a new location or add your vote to locations that have already been selected. At present, the two top vote getters  in our neighborhood are Broad and South (71 votes)  and City Hall (87 votes), both non controversial choices. But some obvious locations lag significantly. For instance,   Markward Playground at Taney Park has only 8 votes. Let's not let our neighborhood be outvoted by those effete Easterners living in Wash West or Society Hill. And imagine the shame, the unspeakable shame, of being out polled by the Southerners residing below South Street. Neighbors Unite!  Speak now or forever hold your peace.

JUNE 27, 2014


NEIGHBORHOOD SECURITY: TOWN WATCH AND VIDEO SURVEILLANCE 

The armed home invasion/sexual assault of a young woman early last Saturday morning on the 1900 block of Spruce St. prompted a Wednesday night  public meeting co sponsored by CCRA and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson at  Tenth Presbyterian Church, 17th and Spruce. More than 70 people attended  despite the fact that an arrest had been announced the day before. Speakers included the 9th District Police Captain Frank Banford, and representatives fromWomen Organized Against Rape, Handbags 4 Peace (which sponsors self defense programs), Town Watch Integrated Services, and the Philadelphia Commerce Dept.'s SafeCam program ( which provides financial support for surveillance cameras on commercial premises). The program focused on two anti crime strategies - Town Watch programs and surveillance cameras. CCRA President Jeff Braff offered the CCRA office's organizational support  for a resurrected town-watch program in our neighborhood.  To initiate a Town Watch , even on a skeletal level,  24 committed individuals are needed to walk  in pairs fortwo hour shifts (8:00 to 10:00 pm or 10:00 pm to midnight) once each month. Town Watches not only provide extra eyes on the street, the opportunity for walking partners to get acquainted is a proven community builder.  Eleven audience members signed an expression of interest.   If you are interested in volunteering, or would like more information, email the CCRA office with Town Watch in the subject line or call 215-546-6719.  Also discussed at the meeting was the Commerce Department's program to financially support the placement of video cameras on commercial premises. Surveillance cameras lead to the prompt arrest of the pest exterminator  accused of the January 2013 murder of a young woman on the 1700 block of Naudain.


JUNE 20, 2014


POLICE ADVICE: USE ANTI BURGLARY PROPERTY ID 

Even in Eden's Garden there lurked a serpent, so it is that we have added a  Crime Report to the CCRA enewsletter,  Our last edition recorded 6 burglaries and 6 car break-ins over the last three weeks. Crime may be  inevitable but one way to  diminish its impact is the 9th Police District's Property Labeling program. To participate go online atwww.phillypolice.com to obtain difficult to remove labels on which you can provide a personalized code. If your property is recovered, the police will know where to return it.  A great security device for computers, TV's, game consoles,  and other electronic gadgets. 

JUNE 13, 2014


CCRA BOARD SUPPORTS EXTENSION OF SALES TAX TO HELP FUND SCHOOLS

Consistent with our strategic plan, and the importance of public education to retaining and attracting residents and businesses to our neighborhood and the City at large, CCRA has placed a priority on education issues.  At its last meeting, the Board voted to support the extension of the 1% City sales tax and to permanently allocate the first $120 million of the revenue generated to the School District, with any additional funds (estimated this year to be $17 million, with projected increases in the future) used to help pay down the substantially unfunded liabilities in the pension fund.  Click here to read the Association's letter sent to all members of City Council.  Yesterday, City Council passed legislation which does what CCRA requested.


JUNE 6, 2014


FIRE MARSHAL'S REPORT ON 23RD/NAUDAIN EXPLOSION

Approximately 100 people attended a second public meeting convened by City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson regarding the May 1explosion on the 2300 block of Naudain.  Representatives from the Fire Marshal's office reported  that (1)  a PECO electrical wire had faulted at 2300 Naudain but that (2) the  point of origin for the fire/explosion was not at the 2300 location and that (3) the  office could not determine the ignition source of that explosion or what ignited. Readings taken by Fire Department before the explosion showed carbon monoxide levels of 2000 parts per million, the highest reading  their instruments could measure.  However, according to PECO's representatives, the level for carbon monoxide required for combustion is more than 60 times those readings. In response to questions from the audience, the Fire Marshal advised that  PECO's lines were only deenergized approximately three and a half  hours after Fire Department personnel notified PECO of possible electrical involvement. Neither PECO nor the Fire Marshall could inform the audience when PECO's representatives first arrived on the scene. A Philadelphia Gas Works representative stated that although readings taken at the scene showed the presence of methane gas, the gas detected had neither the  molecular blueprint nor the odor of gas delivered via PGW lines. PGW's workers at the scene found no detectable natural gas in the building that exploded and were the last ones in that building before the explosion. PECO representative Ed Mc Bride reported that PECO had retained independent experts whose reports  concluded that the PECO line fault at 2300 Naudain did not cause the explosion at 2310. McBride refused to deliver the reports to the public.


MAY 30, 2014


TUES 6/3 6 PM MEEETING RE 2300 NAUDAIN EXPLOSION 22nd & BAINBRIDGE APOSTOLIC CHURCH


Councilman Kenyatta Johnson has scheduled a second public meeting regarding the May 1 explosion which decimated houses on the south side of the 2300 block of Naudain. Representatives from PGW, the Streets Department, the Office of Emergency Management, and the Fire Marshall's office are to attend.  At present, there are  more questions than answers as to the cause of the catastrophe.  At a May 6 public meeting convened by Councilman Johnson and attended by representatives from these agencies, no information was provided as to the explosion cause. At next Tuesday's meeting, the Fire Department's conclusions are to be released. Residing at this end of town has, at times, seemed biblical, as in the ten plagues described in the  Book of Exodus. In July of 2012, a water main break  a few blocks away, at 21st and Bainbridge,  flooded dozens of properties. First floods, then fire. What's next?  The experience has raised larger questions about the safety of the city's infrastructure. According to PGW, the old time cast iron lead  gas pipes on 24th Street are scheduled for replacement in this calendar year, slight solace if the May 1 explosion was gas related. 



APRIL 11, 2014


REVISED PLAN FOR ONE RIVERSIDE at 25TH AND LOC.

As detailed in December's Center City Quarterly and several "What's New" columns, CCRA voted in August to oppose the high-rise proposed by Carl Dranoff for 25th and Locust Streets as inconsistent with our Neighborhood Plan, and because of concerns regarding its impact on the adjacent Community Gardens, parking, traffic congestion, noise, and safety.  However, the project was designed to be built "by right," i.e., without the need for Zoning Board variances.  Accordingly, we concluded that our negotiating power was limited to appealing to the developer's interest in favorable community relations, his public image, and his desire to build something he could be proud of.  Hence, a CCRA Task Force met several times with the developer's team to address a number of design issues (including the effect that glass sheathing might have on the Garden and the massing of the tower immediately adjacent to the Garden), and the impact of the raised podium  and the three curb cuts on the 25th Street pedestrian experience.

 

In November, two near neighbors (both CCRA members) appealed the L&I  Zoning Permit asserting that, while the Zoning Code provides for a 100% Gross Floor Area bonus for underground accessory parking, only the lower of the two levels of parking was really underground.  Therefore, One Riverside was not entitled to the bonus, and the project's square footage must be reduced by about 15%.  (L&I's contrary conclusion was based upon statutory interpretation involving the definition of "the average level of the lot" when it is located, as One Riverside is, within a 100-year floodplain.)

 

CCRA decided not to join the appeal, not because we thought it was frivolous, but because of our concern that the developer could moot the appeal, and retain the underground parking bonus, simply by eliminating all of the 29 parking spaces that were planned for the second level (leaving the balance of the parking indisputably underground).  In other words, even if the appellants prevailed on the statutory interpretation, rather than the result being no high-rise adjacent to the park, we would get virtually the same building, but with 29 fewer parking spaces.

 

We are pleased to report that the "underground parking" appeal has been resolved in a way that, while not stopping the project, or even reducing the building's mass (Gross Floor Area will remain the same, though on 21 stories instead of 20), does not result in the feared loss of parking spaces.  To the contrary, there will be additional parking spaces (for fewer units).  Furthermore, the project design has been revised to address many of the issues that the CCRA Task Force had focused upon.  More specifically: 

  • Parking will be completely "below the dirt," eliminating the podium and the blank wall on 25th Street.
  • There will only be one curb cut on 25th Street (instead of three).
  • There will be no loading docks (or garage doors) on 25th Street (instead of two); all loading and unloading will be inside the premises.
  • The building will be 21 feet from the Garden (instead of eight).
  • There will be 129 units (instead of 147).
  • There will be 96 parking spaces (instead of 81). 

An additional design change is the elimination of the café.  Click here to see an illustrative site plan.

 

The Dranoff team has not asked for any zoning variances. The project will be the subject of a Civic Design Review, which is advisory only, on May 6 at 1 pm, on the 18th Floor of 1515 Arch St.  and the revised project will be presented to a CCRA Community Meeting on April 29.  


APRIL 4, 2014


GROUNDBREAKING RE MIDRISE AT Y ANNEX, 2021 CHESTNUT - WED, 4/9, 9:30 AM 

Aquinas Realty Partners, the City, and the Redevelopment Authority have announced a ground breaking ceremony on  Wed April 9, at 9:30  for a 12 story, 110 unit apartment building to be erected on the north side of the 2000 block of Chestnut (2017 - 2023 Chestnut) at the site of the YMCA annex.  The 120,000 square foot tower portion of the project will contain studio, one bedroom with den, and two bedroom units all with hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and washer dryer units. Retail space will occupy the ground floor level.  In keeping with the CCRA neighborhood plan which encourages developers to include open space, the building features a second floor courtyard/garden and a higher sky terrace. A portion of the building will be used by the Freire Charter School, the project's neighbor to the west.  Plans call for a 24/7 doorman. Aquinas anticipates that the building will be ready for occupancy at the end of this year.  


MARCH 28, 2014


RESIDENTIAL HI RISE PLANS AT 19TH AND CHESTNUT

Pearl Properties has created preliminary plans to erect a high rise residential apartment tower on the southwest corner of 19th and Chestnut with the residential entrance on 19th. The project is just east of the Boyd Theater site and across the street from the CVS pharmacy. The  plans call for the preservation of the property situated on the southwest corner of 19th and Chestnut, recently occupied by the Qdoba restaurant. Sketches show retail on two floors accessible from the ground floor with the entry on Chestnut. The site is zoned CMX4 (center city commercial mixed use), which prescribes a floor area ratio (FAR) of between 500% and 700% depending upon whether the property qualifies for Section 14-702 bonuses for amenities such as public art, public space, underground parking or green elements. A 7 story building with a footprint  occupying 100% of the buildable space on a lot has an FAR of 700%, while a 14 story building with a footprint occupying 50% of the buildable space would have an FAR of 700%. CCRA has created a major development taskforce which has met twice with Pearl Properties and is making arrangements for Pearl's representatives to present their plans at a public meeting to be held on April 29 at 7:00 PM, at a location still to be determined. Stay tuned.


MARCH 21, 2014


ESCROW GLITCHES FOR  OWNERS IN LOOP PROGRAM OR WHO HAVE APPEALED TO BRT

CCRA's Treasurer (and resident AVI expert) Walt Spencer recently spoke with a senior official in the City Department of Revenue about possible mortgage escrow glitches pertaining to: 

  •  Owners who qualify for the Longtime Owner Occupant Program (LOOP) providing that assessments are subject to a  300% cap. Per the City, LOOP determinations are expected to be delivered no later than March 31. OR 
  • Owners who prevail in their Bureau of Revision of Taxes (BRT)  appeals, reducing their reassessment levied in the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) which reassessed all 480,000 properties in the City.  

The glitches arise because mortgage lenders use City records to  calculate the escrow amounts needed to pay City taxes. These escrow sums are typically collected monthly  from property owners holding mortgages. 1/12th of the annual tax bill is collected each month by the mortgage lender.  Because the realty taxes owed by LOOP participants and owners who succeed on their BRT appeals are lower than the AVI levies, two problems emerge: 

  • Many mortgage lenders have already used the escrow funds to pay more than is owed on LOOP properties and more than may be owed on properties where an appeal has been taken.  Mortgage lenders customarily disburse the escrow funds  to pay city realty taxes by Feb 28, thereby   qualifying  for a 1% discount (although, technically, City realty taxes are not due until March 31). Hence many  mortgage lenders have already paid to the City the amounts assessed via AVI, even on LOOP and BRT appeal properties.  
  • Further, going forward, mortgage lenders are using the AVI reassessments to calculate the amount to be escrowed each month on account of City taxes. Hence, for LOOP participants and taxpayers who succeed in their appeals, the amount collected on their escrow payments each month may be too large.

Taxpayers who have qualified under the LOOP program or who have filed an appeal with the BRT should contact their mortgage lender to ensure that the monthly amount collected for escrow reflects theproper realty tax figure.  If your escrow withholding or escrow payments are incorrect, request your mortgage lender to seek a refund from the City (if an incorrect sum has already been paid to the City) OR  request that the lender refund (or credit) any overages withheld on the escrow account and adjust your monthly escrow going forward.

 

If your bank will not process a request for a City refund where the City has already been paid, you may file a request for refund from the City. The refund form is here. If you need additional information, please  contact our office centercity@centercityresidents.org or call 215-546- 6719.


MARCH 14, 2014


DI BRUNO BROS. TWEAKS CCRA MEMBER DISCOUNT PROGRAM:  SIGN UP FOR YOUR "FRIENDS OF DI BRUNO BROS." CARD TODAY

As our members know, Di Bruno Bros. (contributor, once again, of the food for this year's March 13 Celebration of Center City Living event) has been a proud, longstanding supporter of CCRA.  They have been celebrating great food with great people for the past 75 years, and they have been honored to be our members' go-to source for all things gourmet, including  domestic and imported cheeses, charcuterie, fresh produce, prepared foods, fine coffees, chocolates, and catering.   Please note that Di Bruno's is launching a new "Friends of Di Bruno Bros." program for CCRA members, which will replace the current CCRA discount program effective April 1, 2014.   Don't worry, Di Bruno Bros. will continue to offer CCRA members 10% off at their Rittenhouse (1730 Chestnut Street) and The Market at Comcast Center (1701 JFK Blvd.) locations, as well as with their Catering division .  But to take advantage of this CCRA membership discount, you must register at www.dibruno.com/rittenhouse-ccra and you will receive your "Friends of Di Bruno Bros." discount card in the mail.  Simply present your card to the cashier at check-out, or reference CCRA when ordering catering, and you'll receive 10% off.


MARCH 7, 2014


WALKERS:  BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!

PlanPhilly and Azavea recently identified the top 10 locations for pedestrian crashes in Philadelphia.  Guess what was number 1?  Chestnut Street between 10th and 18th Street.  Specifically, the 1200 and 1600 blocks of Chestnut Streets, with 14 and 10 crashes, respectively.  The study's authors hypothesize that the volume of pedestrians is the reason.  But the report recommends several design changes that may mitigate this situation.    For more information, and to see the other "winning" locations, click on this link:

 http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/the-philadelphia-pedestrians-guide-to-the-citys-most-dangerous-streets. 

LETTER.BLOCK111

NEIGHBORHOOD CRIME STATS THRU CCRA WEBSITE

On Feb. 12, CCRA held a general meeting with District 9 police personnel (newly installed Capt. Raymond Convery, Lt. Marty Best, and Officer Steve Kiefer) titled "Public Safety, the Police, and You."  (Read more about that event in the next issue of the Center City Quarterly.)  During the course of that meeting, we learned about a new and improved 9th District website that lists crimes committed in the District, including when and where they occur.  This information can now be accessed through CCRA's  website: 
www.centercityresidents.org.  Click on "Who to call,"  then "More useful links."  This will bring you to a link  titled "Phila. 9th Dist. Crime Stats."  Click that and then click "Crime Reports" at the top.  This will give you a monthly report by "Public Service Area."  CCRA is in PSA 1.  Sounds complicated, but it is easy once you have done it.  


FEBRUARY 28, 2014


PEW REPORT:  PHILA. MIDDLE CLASS ON REBOUND

On Tuesday, the PEW Charitable Trusts released its long awaited Report:  Philadelphia's Changing Middle Class: After Decades of Decline, Prospects for Growth. Contrary to the headlines and tone of articles about the Report in The Inquirer and Philadelphia Business Journal, both of which stressed the decline in the size of the middle class between 1970 and 2000 ("middle class" is defined as adult households with incomes, in 2010 dollars, between $41,258 and $123,157), as the title of the Report suggests, the PEW authors were actually somewhat upbeat, concluding that the size had stabilized over the last decade, and that our middle class is about the same share of the overall city population as in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.  Where Philadelphia departs from these other cities is that we have a higher percentage of lower-income residents and a lower percentage of higher-income ones.  Whether you read the Report for yourself or not, please come to our panel discussion:  "The Future of the Middle Class in Philadelphia."  We will hear from authors of the Report, as well as representatives from Econosult and The Economy League.  Monday, April 7, 7:00 pm, at the Trinity Center for Urban Life, 22nd and Spruce Sts.


FEBRUARY 14, 2014


UPBEAT REPORT ON THE CULTURAL COMMUNITY

The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance's recent report on Arts and Prosperity suggests that Ezra Pound, a flawed soul if ever there was one, may have been speaking about Philadelphia when he stated "All great art is born of the metropolis".   Our City is a leader among its peers in support for the arts and our neighborhood, west of Broad to the Schuylkill, is at the epicenter of this arts friendly community. In per capita expenditures, Philadelphia ranked third, trailing only Washington and San Francisco, but leading Chicago, in a survey excluding New York (Broadway places the Big Apple in a league of its own). Of $839 million spent on the arts in the greater Philadelphia area, almost 60% was spent in the City. Of the 12  City neighborhoods surveyed, our community, Center City West, accounted for the largest expenditures per year,  $52 million. But continue your donations to our arts venues because ticket purchases account for less than a third of production costs (median admission prices were $15, while median production costs were $48).


FEBRUARY 7, 2014

CHOP ON SCHUYLKILL AVE: PLAIN VANILLA,  RETAIL IN QUESTION

Children's Hospital presented their latest plans (at www.chop.edu/expansionfor a 22 story office tower and parking garage as the first stage of  an office  campus located between Schuylkill Ave and the railroad tracks on a parcel stretching from the South Street bridge to approximately Catherine Street.

 

The individual members of the South X Schuylkill joint taskforce convened by CCRA, SOSNA and SSWBA are concerned that the project is needlessly underwhelming and that the plans fail to support pedestrian friendly, neighborhood interactive public spaces.

 

CHOP is a Philadelphia institution.  But, like Comcast or Urban Outfitters, it has a national brand. The buildings erected by Comcast and Urban Outfitters are iconic and they make the City a better place.  The Comcast Center rules the City's skies and, at ground level, it features  an out of the box video intensive lobby adjacent to an al fresco urban dining plaza. Urban Outfitter's Naval Yard campus has won numerous prizes (at least 10), including the American Institute of Architect's 2010 honor award. The UO commissary at the Naval Yard not only has become the 9 to 5 social center for its employees AND the thousands of non UO employees at the Naval Yard, it is the go to place for the upscale charity events frequented by the region's glitterati. CHOP's suggestion for its commissary?  Something along the lines of Au Bon Pain, a great amenity for one of those office parks you whiz by on the New Jersey turnpike on your way from one great city, Philadelphia, to another, New York.

 

CHOP's plans also fall short on the urban planning scale.  City streets which are safe and successful feature ground level retail which provides bustle and the safety of eyes on the street. CHOP's response?  Retail's not part of our mission.  But CHOP has chosen to activate its mission in a city and in pursuing its mission, CHOP can enhance its surroundings by embracing basic urban planning principles or not. What does "or not" look like? Take a walk at 5:15 pm down Civic Center Boulevard, the location of CHOP's west Philadelphia facilities, but bring a friend, because you will be the only one on the sidewalk.

 

The 22-story tower built atop a parking garage accessible from the South Street bridge will house 1,000 research staff. The garage is covered by a plaza interspersed with plantings below which the parking floors descend from the height of the bridge to the level of Schuylkill Ave. The garage mass is hidden by the building's podium  and a set of "Spanish steps" rising from the western terminus of Bainbridge Street to the bridge level. In addition,  the plans call for a surface parking lot on the site's  southern end accessible from Schuylkill Avenue so that a total of 500 cars can be accommodated. CHOP is negotiating with CSX for a promenade over the tracks and a bridge to Schuylkill Banks.

 

Demolition of the Kennedy building is planned for this spring  with construction beginning  in the summer and a projected completion in the spring of 2017.


JANUARY 31, 2014

PEW REPORT ON MILLENIALS: PROMISING/FRAGILE

The recently released Pew Trust Report "Millenials in Philadelphia - A Promising but Fragile Boom", sees mostly sunshine but also some clouds in the City's future. By way of sunshine, the report notes that the City's population of 20 to 34 year olds increased by 100,000 from 2006 to 2012 - a good sign for the City's future in a state where the percentage of citizens over 65 (15.4%), ranks fourth behind Florida, West Virginia and Maine. Philadelphia's millenials are concentrated in or near the City's core, the 2010 census showed millenials constituted 48% of the populace in our CCRA  neighborhood. From 2006 to 2012,  the millenial's share of city population rose from 20% to 26%, the median figure for the country's 30 largest cities. More important, these millenials are a significant percentage of the influx of new citizens who reversed  5 successive decades of population losses. Millenials accounted  for almost 2/3 of individuals who reported having moved into the City recently.  If the age of the millennial cohort bodes well for the City's future, so does their education.  Millenials are twice as likely as older Philadelphians to have bachelor's degrees.  But there are clouds. Half of the millenials said they were not likely to be living in the City in the next 5 to 10 years, as compared to 29% of the older adults. Their top 3 concerns? 38% listed job opportunities as problematic, while 29% cited school and child rearing considerations and 22% mentioned crime/public safety. Older adults living in the City were more optimistic and selected different rankings, placing crime first (28%), careers second (22%) and schools/children third (17%). 

LETTER.BLOCK82

THEFTS FROM UNATTENDED PURSES IN AREA STORES

The 9th Police District, which includes the CCRA neighborhood, and the 6th District, which patrols east of Broad Street, have issued warnings about a threesome who have stolen the contents of purses laid on counters or on the backs of chairs in retail establishments over the last 9 months. For photos of the suspects and a description of the thefts click here.


JANUARY 24, 2014

CCRA DECIDES NOT TO OPPOSE BOYD THEATER AUDITORIUM DEMOLITION ON 1900 BL. OF CHEST.

At a Jan. 22 special meeting,  the CCRA Board wrestled with the troubling issue of whether to oppose demolition of the grand auditorium in the Boyd Theater, shuttered since 2002,  the last of the City's majestic movie palaces,  where iPic Entertainment plans to open an 8 screen movie/dining cineplex. The Board voted not to oppose demolition subject to the successful negotiation of side agreements dealing with "good neighbor" issues such as the operation of the  liquor license, and handling of trash and deliveries.  In addition to hearing presentations from  iPic and the Friends of the Boyd, a volunteer group which has, for years, sought to reopen the building, the Board reviewed a Report from a consultant to the  Philadelphia Historical Commission  concluding  that any alternative use was not "economically feasible without significant public subsidies". iPic  applied to the Phila. Historical Commission, under its financial hardship rules, for a permit to demolish the Sansom Street  wing of the L shaped building  which contains the auditorium. Only the exterior of the Boyd, the Chestnut Street façade, and the non descript brick wall along Sansom St,  is subject to the historic preservation law. The iPic plans call for two levels of four auditoriums seating a total of 740 customers. In addition, the complex  would have dining facilities designed to hold 170 patrons. The average height of the planned structure, 67 feet, is identical to the average height of the current structure. 

  

The Historic Commission's Financial Hardship and Architectural Committee meets Tuesday, January 28, at 1515 Arch (One Parkway), on the 18th Floor at 9 a.m. to consider the demolition application, and is expected to make a recommendation to the full Historical Commission on February 14.  


JANUARY 17, 2014

BOYD THEATER CONSULTANT: REDEVELOPMENT NOT ECONOMICALLY FEASIBLE WITHOUT SIGNIFICANT SUBSIDIES
As reported here in Oct., iPic Entertainment has applied to the Phila. Historical Commission, under its financial hardship rules, for a permit to demolish the rear exterior of the Boyd Theater (more specifically, the brown brick building facing Sansom St.containing the auditorium) in order to construct an 8-screen, three-level movie/dining Cineplex.  (Only the exterior of the Boyd is subject to the historic preservation law.)   The Commission retained an independent consultant, Real Estate Strategies, Inc., to address the potential financial hardship which issued a report analyzing three potential alternative uses for the Boyd: Broadway-style theater; multipurpose live entertainment venue and single-screen movie theater; and retail use and combined restaurant and single-screen movie theater.  It concluded that none of these alternative uses is "economically feasible without significant public subsidies."
 
The Commission's Financial Hardship and Architectural Committee meets Tuesday, January 28, in Room 576, City Hall, to consider the application, and is expected to make a recommendation to the full Historical Commission on February 14.  The Historical Commission meetings are at 9:00 am in Room 18-029 at 1515 Arch Street (One Parkway). All meetings are open to the public.  The CCRA Board is convening a Special Board Meeting at which both iPic and the Friends of the Boyd will make a presentation. The Board will then vote on whether to oppose the demolition permit.  That vote may include provisos to bind iPic and any successors on topics such as preservation of portions of the interior of the headhouse; signage; service/delivery issues; and behavioral/use/alcohol issues. 

TEN CIVICS:  SCHOOL SIGNAGE BILL IS REVENUE LOSER

Ten civic associations in the Crosstown Coalition have signed a letter protesting  Bill 130964 which enables commercial signage on school properties so as to raise school funds BUT is far more likely to reduce revenues per the findings of a 2011 Fels Fund report  that residences within 500 feet of a billboard lose $31,000 in value. Consequently,  realty tax returns on homes adjacent to shool billboards will decrease by $415 per home per yr. ($31,000 x 1.34% tax rate). Even if the Fels report is 100% off so that home values only decreased $15,000, the Bill is far more likely to  diminish, not increase, city revenues. For example, if Fels is correct, seven billboards would be needed to offset the real estate tax losses on the homes surrounding the Mifflin School in East Falls. And the density of the residential neighborhood surrounding  the Mifflin school  is not  exceptional because the City's schools tend to be in the heart of residential neighborhoods, where their students live. The civics also took issue with the Bill's "Wild West" clause which exempts signs on school properties from the provisions of the zoning code which pertain to signs located elsewhere.

 

Our District council representatives are Kenyatta Johnson (south of Locust) and Council President Darrell Clarke (north of Locust). For their contact information and the contact points for the 7 council members at-large, please click here.


JANUARY 10, 2014

FIRE, AIM, READY - REALTY TAX UPDATE

It probably is a good thing that Jimmy Breslin, who authored The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight, never met the realty tax bureaucrats in charge of the AVI program.  It seems that several thousand property owners have received reductions in their assessments as a result of a First Level Review with the Office of Property Assessment but that, for some tax payers, these changes were not reflected in the tax bills that property owners received from the City. The City will be issuing corrected bills to the affected property owners.  If you have a bill based on an assessment higher than the reduced assessment from the first level review, we suggest that you wait for a revised bill.  If you do not receive a revised bill by February 15, contact the Revenue Department at 215-686-6442. 


JANUARY 6, 2014

COMMITTEE PERSON ELECTION UPCOMING IN MAY

As a New Years Resolution or otherwise,  get involved by running for election as a committee person in the May 20 primary. Now is the time because  some very interesting races are just around the corner.  A new governor will be elected in November of 2014, and this May will see  a heated  multi-candidate race ( 6 so far)  for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  In  November of 2015, we will elect a new Mayor to succeed  Michael Nutter who is barred from running for a third term.  All 17 City Council seats are also at issue in 2015 ensuring that Council incumbents pretty much  get a free ride every 8 years while voter attention is focused on the Mayor's race, perhaps the most regrettable of the many outdated and dysfunctional provisions of our City Charter.

 

Committee people act as the grassroots of their respective parties with responsibility for electing their ward leaders,  getting out the vote on election day at their polling place, and circulating nominating petitions for candidates interested in appearing on a ballot. To be eligible, a candidate must live in the division where he or she seeks to be a committee person AND be registered in a political party - independents cannot qualify to run for a committee position.  Most of the CCRA  neighborhood is located within the 8th Ward which has 30 divisions, but residents south of Lombard are within three of the 17 divisions which form the 30th ward. Each party may have up to two committee persons for each division.  Although write-ins are permitted, those who wish to appear on the May 20 ballot for committee person must file a nominating petition signed by ten members of their party who live within their division. Nominating petitions are available from the City Commissioner's office,  Rm 141 City Hall.   Petition signatures may be obtained at anytime after February 18 and petitions must be filed before March 11 with the City Commissioners. The Committee of Seventy website explains  the process at www.seventy.org.  Go to Tools and Resources on the Committee site then proceed  to How to Run for Elected Office.



DECEMBER 20, 2013

TEMPORARY TAX FREEZE FOR THOSE WHO APPEALED REALTY TAX AND POSSIBLE 30 DAY TAX APPEAL  EXTENSIONS

TEMPORARY FREEZE:

Approximately 27,000 property owners have appealed their 2014 City realty tax assessments levied under the City's Actual Value Initiative (AVI) program by filing papers  with the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT). Until their appeals are resolved, these taxpayers may pay the same tax that they paid in 2013 by the March 31, 2014 deadline and no penalties or interest will accrue  even if the 2014 tax liability is greater than their 2013 tax amount. Once a final determination is made as to their appeals, property owners will have thirty days to pay any remaining taxes without incurring penalties or interest.


The City Council plans to mail a letter to property owners who have appealed to the BRT informing them of this temporary waiver of interest and penalty.

 

POSSIBLE EXTENSION:

The deadline for property tax appeals to the BRT passed before many property owners had received  notifications from the Office Of Property Assessment (OPA) as to the disposition of their first level appeals to the OPA. Those property owners who filed requests  for first level reviews with the OPA  may  appeal  to the BRT at any time prior to 30 days after receiving an OPA notification:

  • denying  a request for reassessment OR
  • denying a request for a $30,000 Homestead Exemption or one of the exemptions available to low income residents.

Property owners who receive these OPA  letters should not file a standard BRT appeal form because the forms do not account for appeals from OPA decisions. Instead property owners who receive an OPA denial letter should write the BRT, Curtis Center, Suite 325 East, 601 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 19106, requesting that the BRT conduct a  formal review of the decision by the Office of Property Assessment.  Attach a copy of the denial letter from OPA to your request.  Keep a copy of the letter for your records.  Remember you must file your letter with the BRT within 30 days of the date on the letter from OPA.  The BRT will contact you next year to schedule a hearing.  Property owners contesting the dollar value of their assessments should prepare for the hearing by following the procedures set forth in the Crosstown Coalition's pamphlet "How to Appeal Your AVI Assessments."

 

If you have questions about either of these programs, contact the CCRA office.


DECEMBER 13, 2013

CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL COMPLEX ON THE SCHUYLKILL

On December 2, representatives from the development team at Children's Hospital gave an update on plans for an office complex to be situated between the west side of Schuylkill Avenue and the rail tracks that run parallel to the Schuylkill River.  For graphics illustrating the plans click here. Demolition of the abandoned warehouse building to the West of Schuylkill Ave is scheduled to begin as early as January. Machinery, not explosives, will be used for the demolition process. Construction is scheduled to commence in the middle of 2014. The first building,  expected to be completed in the 2nd quarter of 2017, is a high rise in the range of 20 stories situated on the northern edge of the site closest to South Street. 500 parking spaces will serve the 1,500 office workers assigned to that building: a 3-story garage with 250 spaces will be constructed, and there also will be 250 spaces in a surface lot at the southern end of the parcel. The extended plans call for the erection of 3 more high rises, but the CHOP representatives cautioned that the pace of  future expansion will depend upon unpredictable variables.

 The revised plans retain  positive features discussed in earlier public presentations  including:

  • "Spanish steps" rising from the western end  of Bainbridge and rising to the promenade  level at the height of the South St bridge so that pedestrians can walk through the complex between Bainbridge and the bridge.
  • The Hospital is continuing negotiations with the railroad to construct a 15 foot north-south cantilevered walkway/promenade over the rail tracks along the length of the project.
  • The placement of retail, something like Au Bon Pain, at the promenade level which would be available both to CHOP employees and neighbors.
  • The creation of a parklike strip along the west side of Schuylkill Avenue to provide a green border on the eastern edge of the site and act as a buffer adjacent to the surface parking lot.

CHOP representatives also advised that they were considering the placement of retail at the terminus of Bainbridge, and further making at least some of the parking spaces available to neighbors for use before and after the normal workday.


RITTENHOUSE RATS: PART II

The "What's New" portion of the November 27 eNewsletter was about rats in Rittenhouse Square.  The intent of the piece was two-fold:  (a) to report that the problem seems to be "diminish[ing] dramatically, no doubt due to the efforts outlined in the [linked undated letter from the Health Dept.]" (which letter cited the Health Dept., the Dept. of Parks & Recreation, and the Friends of Rittenhouse Square); and (b) to simultaneously castigate the Health Dept. for its tardiness in responding (two months and ten days, notwithstanding a follow-up letter and requests to Council President Clarke and Councilman Johnson for help in getting a response) to a joint Sept. 16 letter from CCRA and the Rittenhouse Coalition regarding this issue and asking "if someone from the Vector Control operation could reach out to the CCRA office . . . ."  The piece went on to point out that this was not CCRA's first experience with lack of timely responses from certain City agencies, referring specifically to CCRA efforts to obtain information from the Office of Property Assessment (OPA) in connection with our work on AVI real estate tax issues.



DECEMBER 6, 2013

CITY COUNCIL, THE FIVE MAN ELECTRICAL BAND, AND OUR SCHOOL CHILDREN

Sitting in City Council  these days brings to mind  a refrain from the   5 Man Electrical Band's greatest hit "Signs, signs, everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind". Two pieces of sign legislation are under consideration - Bill 130656, which regulates billboards and Bill 130694,"permitting . . . non accessory advertising (i.e., non school related advertising) on School District property."  The billboard legislation, Bill 656,  crafted without any neighborhood outreach, blindsided the civic community because its predecessor, Bill 120430, which was never called for a vote, arose from a series of well attended citizen involvement sessions. Many provisions of  656 could benefit from further input, but its proposed legalization of existing billboards regardless of whether they are properly permitted raises a  question which few would think to ask  - Why should the billboard industry be given a pass when it comes to enforcing City laws? CCRA, working in concert with other members of the Crosstown Coalition of Civics, has met with Council staffers and delivered written comments critical of the proposed billboard amnesty project and of the lack of community outreach. Click here to view the letter. 

 

The school advertising bill, 964, envisions a new day for school architecture - Madison Avenue in the groves of academe. The bill  prohibits  tobacco products and alcohol advertising,  leaving the door open for Glock and Remington, Club Risque, ParX Casino, Adderall (the ADHD drug used by collegians for improved exam performance) and, Lord knows, what else. Explosives? What about knives or maybe boxcutters? In addition, the bill excepts school signs from zoning code regulations applicable to non-school  signs, raising yet another question few would think to ask - Why should City Council pass legislation which exempts school signs from regulations applying to other signs? If you want to pass your thoughts to City Hall, here is the contact information.  Now is the time because, per the FMEB's second greatest hit, its "Half Past Midnight." 

THE MOMS CLUB OF CENTER CITY

A new club provides an easy way for moms and children to mingle and develop  support systems. Activities include:

 

1.  Playgroups and meetups at local parks and playgrounds

2.  Field trips to the Zoo, the Please Touch Museum, Smith Playground

3.  Breakfast and lunch groups.

4.  Mom"s Night Out and special events  - dinner , shopping events, movie nights and other fun activities.

 

For more information or if you have any questions, please visit 

NOVEMBER 27, 2013


RITTENHOUSE RATS: THANKSGIVING NOT

Complaints about rats in the Rittenhouse Square area crescendoed in the late Summer, so CCRA collaborated with the Rittenhouse Coalition, a consortium of high rises in the Rittenhouse Square area, and jointly wrote a September 16  letter to the City Agency in charge, Vector Contol, a name apparently concocted by a devotee of George Lucas. So today we give thanks that rat complaints have diminished dramatically, no doubt due to the efforts outlined in the enclosed (undated) letter mailed November 25. The response time - two months and ten days between our request and the City’s reply - diminishes theThanksgiving feel good.  Few know that Mrs. Penn, William’s mother, did not believe in responding to correspondence, and passed this approach to William who in turn instructed City officials accordingly, starting a City  tradition that has been handed down over the centuries. 

 

Because our first three letters in the AVI realty tax campaign were not acknowledged, let alone replied to, we followed our rat inquiry letter several weeks later with a second letter enclosing the original rat request, this time with a copy to our Council members, Council President Clarke and Councilman Johnson.  After several more weeks, we telephoned Council staff and asked them to contact Vector control.Time passed. The Eagles nosedived. The federal government shut down then reopened.  The ACA site crashed then reopened. Talks with Iran stopped then reopened. Governor Christie was reelected. The Eagles rose again AND the City responded with the rat information. Happy Thanksgiving to all and to you too, Mrs. Penn for siring William.

NOVEMBER 22, 2013


CCRA OPPOSITION TO BILLBOARD AMNESTY

CCRA, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and Society Hill Civic Association have joined in a letter opposing the legalization of billboards regardless of their compliance with City regulations. The background to this letter is pretty much an "Only in Philadelphia" story. In 2006, the Street Administration entered into a settlement agreement to terminate litigation with BIG OUTDOOR ADVERTISING, folks like Clearchannel and Steen Outdoor. In exchange for delivery of an inventory of billboards,  the City agreed to only pursue enforcement proceedings in arbitration. The sign community lived up to its end of the bargain, the City not so much. The inventories detailing hundreds of signs were delivered but, according to Scenic Philadelphia, the City never got around to instituting any enforcement proceedings - as in 0 enforcement proceedings over 7 years. Hmm.  Maybe the Law Department was so tied up trying to collect real estate taxes that it could not pursue the sign community? Oops, the inventory of unpaid realty taxes, which presently stands at half a billion dollars,  grew by leaps and bounds in the 7 years since the 2006  settlement agreement. Not to worry, City Council is on the job.Their latest bill grandfathers legality for  all those inventoried signs which the City never took to arbitration. If you want to weigh in on this controversy, write our Council people: Council President Darrell Clarke for those who live above Walnut or on Rittenhouse Square; Councilman Kenyatta Johnson for those south of Locust; and also the seven at large council members. Click here for Councils' contact information. The bill number is 130656  Section 19-3400 Section 5 (c ) (pg 18 of the bill).

NOVEMBER 15, 2013

 

RETAIL/RESIDENTIAL AT SOUTH STREET'S ROYAL THEATER 

Recently we reported on the upscale 8 screen Cineplex planned for the Boyd Theater on the 1900 block of Chestnut. Another historic theater venue, the Royal, located just across CCRA's boundaries on the south side of the 1500 block of South Street, is also the subject of dramatic development proposals presented at a November 11 public meeting convened by South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA) and the South Street West Business Association. The Royal, where Bessie Smith and Fats Waller appeared before the venue ceased operations more than 40 years ago, was purchased in 2000 by Philly music mogul Kenny Gamble's Universal Companies, subject to a historic preservation easement on the South Street façade. At the November meeting, Universal representatives discussed plans to preserve the façade, while converting the former theater space to  7000 square feet of retail on South Street, with 30 rental units above. The plans also call for 13 parking spaces and 6 Kater Street townhomes  with 2 car garages entered from a single shared driveway. The property should see activity soon because a neighbor has filed a lawsuit seeking to have a local developer/businessperson, Ori Feibush, appointed as a conservator because of maintenance issues at the site.

NOVEMBER 8, 2013

 

REAL ESTATE GLASS HALF FULL/EMPTY OR HAVE HAPPY DAYS ARRIVED?

This just in -  a dog bites man type story - the experts disagree about Philadelphia's housing health.

 

Econsult's Philadelphia Housing Report, in a glass half empty analysis, noted in the last quarter a slight stall in the slow upward trend in prices and sales that commenced in 2012. Total home sales increased an anemic .3% from the previous quarter BUT were 14% higher than in the same quarter a year ago. Sales for properties priced at $200 per sq foot or more, which would include most transactions in our community, totaled 512, roughly 14% of the sales in the City. The number of properties which sold for prices in excess of $500,000 numbered  176, 4.7% of the total number of sales. The median sales price for the area denominated as "Center City" ( from Girard Ave to Washington Ave between the rivers) was $413,750 and increased 6% over the last year, although the majority of the price increases were on the south side of the area described as "Center City," i.e., Graduate Hospital and Bella Vista.

 

Kevin Gillen at the Fels Institute sips from a half full glass, noting in an October 3 report that Philadelphia prices decreased relatively less than those of competitor cities and  rebounded relatively more than those in other cities.  He concludes:  "Philadelphia generally outperformed most U.S. cities during the downturn." He admits that the number of sales is down 62% since the 2004 peak, but notes that the trend for the last 3 years is up and points out that the backlog of unsold condos and homes has diminished dramatically. The finale of the Gillen report concludes that elimination of the ten year realty tax abatement, a proposal championed by Councilman Wilson Goode,  would diminish jobs AND revenues.

NOVEMBER 1, 2013

 

READ ALL ABOUT IT! SOUTH OF SOUTH STREET

 

The Executive Director of SOSNA, a member of the Crosstown Coalition with CCRA, Andrew Dalzell, has authored a must read memoire of the neighborhood to our south, "Evergreens: A Neighborhood History," available for $20 at the SOSNA office (1901 South St., 215-732-8446) or at Neighborhood Books (1906 South St. 215 545 2665).


The book's first section recounts the area's history - starting with the Pemberton family of Quaker merchants. The Pemberton family estate, "Evergreens" at 23rd and Grays Ferry, acquired in 1738, provides the book's title.  The area remained largely undeveloped until the years immediately after the Civil War when the community assumed its current form with the wide spread construction of the row homes still lining the area's streets. By 1890, the population had peaked at 30,614. It now numbers roughly 12,000. As the book reveals, between now and then a lot has happened - the introduction and disappearance of heavy industry, the insurge and departure of the Irish and African American residents, the decades long South Street Expressway battle and more. The community has also been home to a number of key figures whom  Dalzell profiles. Artistic leaders such as Alexander Milne Calder, whose sculptures (more than 250 of them) adorn City Hall, and Marian Anderson, the internationally acclaimed contralto remembered not only for her voice but for her successful 1939 confrontation with the racially restrictive policies of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Julian Abele, the African American architect whose  work is seen in the Art Museum, the Free Library and more than 40 buildings on the Duke University campus.


Dalzell also touches upon the neighborhood's future providing an overview of various plans created to guide the community into the 21st Century - the most recent of which was a joint CCRA/SOSNA project completed in 2010.  The book's second section features an indispensable annotated photographic inventory of neighborhood buildings, both extant and demolished.  No Philadelphia bookshelf should be without a copy.

 

 

OCTOBER 25, 2013

 

TEN TOWNHOMES AT 19TH & LOMBARD 

Developer Noah Ostroff, who recently completed the Lombard Estates townhouses on the north side of the 1800 block of Lombard, is about to start work on a ten unit townhouse development, Rittenhouse Estates, just down the street. Seven 5000 square foot homes and one-4000 square foot home will front on the north side of Lombard, from the corner of 19th and Lombard to Uber Street, midway between 19th and 20th . The other two homes, slightly smaller, will open onto Uber Street and 19th Street respectively.  Currently the site is occupied by a parking lot and four apartment buildings all of which will be demolished.  In accordance with the Center City Residents' Neighborhood Plan, Rittenhouse Estates has no garage fronts facing the pedestrians. Cars enter via a single driveway on 19th Street and all garage access is via an interior courtyard, out of public sight. The plans call for 20 parking slots. Demolition is scheduled to commence before December 31st  and the targeted completion date is the end of 2014. The project was the subject of multiple reviews with CCRA's zoning committee resulting in project modifications to address the committee's concerns and  those expressed by near neighbors.  Modifications included a reduction in the mass and streetscape impact of the townhouses fronting Lombard street; an increase in rear open space, a reduction in the height of the two townhouses adjacent to the Ringold Street residences, as well as changing the vehicular circulation for  the townhouse rear parking to eliminate cars egressing onto Uber Street where a daycare and play area are located.

OCTOBER 18, 2013

 

COMING SOON TO A CINEPLEX NEAR YOU?

i Pic Entertainment has announced plans to open an 8 screen three level dining/movie Cineplex at the Boyd Theater located at 1908 Chestnut on the south side of the street. The Boyd opened in 1928 with seating for 2400, an exemplar of the then au courant Art Deco style. Unfortunately, the building has been closed since 2002 but, in its day, it was a star in its own right. The nation's princess and Philadelphia's hometown girl, Grace Kelly, attended the premiere of High Noon at the Boyd in 1952 and, more recently, in 1993, Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia premiered with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington (before the earring) in the audience. Given this background, it is not surprising that both the  Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and The National Trust for Historic Preservation have identified the theater as an endangered historic place. i Pic theaters feature main stream films,  restaurant spaces with extensive menus and, in the theaters, wide seats with in cinema food and beverage service. i Pic Entertainment has yet to clear zoning and historic commission procedures. A CCRA taskforce has been appointed to monitor the progress of this development and has had an initial meeting with the development team.  Stay tuned for details regarding a possible CCRA Community Meeting regarding this proposal. 

 

 

OCTOBER 11, 2013

 

NEW 311 MOBILE APP FOR CITY COMPLAINTS/INQUIRIES


The administration has added a smartphone app to the 311 program, first instituted as a telephone service in 2009. The 311 program, a  Nutter administration success story, provides a sounding board for citizen querries and complaints freeing 911  for emergency messages. To acquire the app, which is free, enter "Philadelphia 311" at your app store.   The welcome screen lists 8 categories, the first of which is new requests. If that icon is pressed, the next step is to insert the address in question after which prompts provide complaint categories - graffiti, fallen tree, pothole repair, etc. When "pothole repair" is selected an option emerges to insert a photo. The other seven options on the welcome screen deal with frequently asked questions - providing L&I property histories and identifying commissioners and department heads in city government with contact information. The app addresses a glitch in the 311 telephone system which is not accessible by cell phone, only via landlines.
 
For folks who prefer human interaction to the internet, the 311 dialup remains. After  two minutes of  recorded messages, the call is answered fairly promptly (the wait rarely exceeds 3 minutes) 8 am to 8pm each workday not only by people (no voicemail) but, mirabile dictu, people who, in our experience,  are courteous and knowledgeable  -  they  seem never to have read that HR memo rumored to have been in circulation since 1901 when City Hall opened. Each call is assigned a tracking number so follow up is easy.
 
It's pretty much City Hall in a pocket. Don't leave home without one.  

 

OCTOBER 4, 2013


CIVIC ASSOCIATION LEADERS SEE THEIRNEIGHBORHOODS IMPROVING BUT NOT THE CITY

The leaders in the 300 community organizations which have registered with the Planning Commission view their particular community favorably but are less satisfied with the City as a whole . Of the 75 who replied, including CCRA, only 10% thought the city was headed in the right direction while 25%  indicated that it was going in the wrong direction.

The rest - 66% - reported mixed feelings. But when asked about their own neighborhoods, 39% thought their communities had gotten better over the last 5 years and an equal percentage thought their individual neighborhoods had improved in some aspects and gotten worse in others. By contrast, only 20% thought the City had improved in the last 5 years. Responses were evenly split on Mayor Nutter's performance - 26% rated him as doing a good/excellent job and an equal percentage labeled his performance as poor.  City Council ratings were lower - only 20% rated Council's efforts as good or excellent but 55% approved of their own District council person. For city services, SEPTA got the highest ratings (78% said it was good/excellent) and the good/excellent rating was 75% for fire/EMS, 61% for trash and recycling, 59% police, 53% for public libraries, 43% for recreation, 28% for street repair, 20% for Licenses and Inspections, and only 15% for schools.  A dramatically high 91% said they felt very safe or somewhat safe in their homes. The bottom line? Get involved to create the City we all wish to live in.
 

Click here to see the survey results.
 

 

SEPTEMBER 27, 2013

RESIDENTS WITH UNRESOLVED PROPERTY TAX CHALLENGES FACE 10/7 APPEAL DEADLINE

The Inquirer reported Monday that the Office of Property Assessments (OPA) has processed only 25,000 of the 47,000 informal appeals (i.e., "Request for Review") of new property assessments. This despite an earlier promise by the Nutter administration to respond to all appeals by the end of July. 

The deadline for filing a formal appeal of your assessment with the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT) is Monday, October 7th.  If you have filed an informal appeal with OPA and not received a response (or received a response which you believe is unsatisfactory), you MUST file an appeal with the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT)  by Monday, October 7 to preserve your rights. Only 1,500 BRT appeals have been filed although usually the Board gets as many as 2,000 appeals. The appeal form is available at www.phila.gov/brt.  A link to a guide with step-by-step instructions on preparing your appeal can be found on the CCRA web site www.centercityresidents.org,  which also describes a flat fee program offered by two law firms to CCRA members.

The Crosstown Coalition of Taxpayers, a federation of twenty one neighborhood civic organizations of which CCRA was a founding member, is working with the City to secure an extension of the October 7 deadline for property owners who have appeals pending with the OPA.  CCRA will issue an update if this effort is successful.  But this workaround has yet to be put in place, so if you are dissatisfied with your current assessment, as matters stand now, you must file an appeal by Monday October 7. 
 

SEPTEMBER 20, 2013

PRO CIVIC SLAPP LEGISLATION INTRODUCED


State Senator Larry Farnese, whose district includes the CCRA community and most of the downtown neighborhoods, has introduced legislation to curb Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, known colloquially as SLAPP suits. The bill addresses issues faced by Old City Civic Association, an active member of the Crosstown Coalition, which voted to disband this Spring because its board was unable to purchase Officers and Directors insurance as a result of SLAPP claims even though no judgment was ever obtained against OCCA, and despite the fact that the claims were terminated without payment of any settlement. Senate Bill 1095 provides qualified immunity for those who "act . . . on issues of public interest in connection with the enforcement . . . of government action related to an issue of public interest".  Joe Schiavo, a former OCCA board member, said:  " This legislation will encourage healthy civic dialogue about issues such as land use and development"


 

 

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

 

ONE RIVERSIDE UPDATE

On September 3, a Civic Design Review panel reviewed the One Riverside high rise project proposed for 25th and Locust.  CCRA's President, Jeff Braff, testified at that hearing and repeated the Association's opposition and concerns.  The Design Review panel issued 4 recommendations which are non-binding and are summarized below. The full text of the recommendations may be found at the City Plannng Commission Civic Design Review website.


*         Investigate options to reduce curbcuts on 25th St and provide additional bike parking.

 

*         Explore greater transparency on the ground floor of the south elevation facing the garden and consider a direct point of access between the new building and the garden.
 
*         Implement traffic calming measures to deal with anticipated pedestrian, bicycle and auto traffic including a stop sign at 25th and Locust.
 
*         Make certain that the extensive plantings called for on the site are maintained properly.

At its September 10  meeting, the CCRA Board endorsed the recommendations of its Task Force assigned to the One Riverside project to specifically address the following topics, along with any other issues the Task Force might identify:

 

*         Construction phase issues -  (work hours, dust, noise, deliveries parking and staging, etc.)
 
*         Setting back the tower to minimize impact on the Community Garden, improve the pedestrian experience on 25th St and to account for the lower scale neighboring buildings. 

 

*        Addressing potential negative impact on Community Garden from solar reflection.

*       The selection of plantings to be used.
 
*        Ongoing maintenance of the project's extensive plantings.
 
*         Pedestrian experience issues (especially with the proposed loading docks and their attendant curbcuts, as well as the curbcuts for the proposed parking garage).
 
*         Façade questions including the impact of glass reflection on the Community Garden, and the location and detailing of the loading dock and vents.
 
*         Parking impacts for both autos and bikes.
 
*         Traffic impacts.
 
*         Café operation issues.

 

 

SEPTEMBER 6, 2013

 

NO CHANGE OF TRAFFIC ON 24TH ST. DURING UPCOMING CONSTRUCTION

Our June 14 What's New segment reported a proposed traffic change on 24th Street in connection with a Water Department piping project which will eliminate one traffic lane on 22nd St. from Bainbridge north to South Street. To alleviate congestion on 22nd created by northbound traffic travelling east on Bainbridge from Gray's Ferry, the Streets Department considered changing 24th Street traffic from one way southbound to one way northbound, so that northbound vehicles on Gray's Ferry could travel north on 24th to both South and Lombard Streets. In an August 28th email, the Streets Department advised that it had decided not to implement the proposed reversal of 24th Street during the construction period, but did intend to commission a study to analyze the effect of a traffic reversal once the construction had terminated.

 

PETITION TO CREATE MEMORIAL PARK AT 22ND AND MARKET

An electronic petition has recently started circulating to turn the tragic Salvation Army demolition site into a memorial pocket park.  Independent of the memorial aspects of this proposal, as we have reported previously, this section of our neighborhood is targeted for dense development, and increased open space is a goal of our Neighborhood Plan.  For more information about the petition, click here.

AUGUST 30, 2013

 

INQUIRER TO THE CONTRARY:  CCRA WAS NOT AN ENABLER OF THE DRANOFF PROJECT!

 

An otherwise accurate and informative Inquirer article on the One Riverside high rise proposed for 25th and Locust by Carl Dranoff  improperly characterized CCRA as "an enabler of Dranoff's current project," and prompted the following communication from CCRA President Jeff Braff to Inquirer columnist Inga Saffron: 
 
Inga:  I must say that I was surprised, to say the least, that your column on Friday characterized CCRA as "an enabler of Dranoff's current project" based upon the fact that CCRA did not oppose the change in the use of the parking lot from private and accessory to public.  You will recall that when you floated that proposition before me last Wednesday, I said that I am not a zoning attorney, and that it was not clear to me that the change made a difference.   Though I am not positive, I believe that I also pointed out to you that CCRA did not agree to the change in the parking lot with the idea that the lot would become a hi-rise, and that the same is probably true for the many neighbors who were notified of the proposed change, including the Gardeners, FSRP, and the Schuylkill River Development Council.  CCRA was thinking of the shortage of public parking in the neighborhood and, so long as it was limited to monthly parkers (rather than day use), CCRA believed that the change (to what already was a surface parking lot) would be an asset to the neighborhood.
 
Below is an email that I sent to CCRA's zoning attorney, Stanley Krakower, raising this very issue.  Krakower's unequivocal answer to the question that I posed is "Yes," i.e., Dranoff could have proceeded with his current project without the need for a variance even if the parking lot had remained private and accessory.  This follows from the fact that the underlying zoning, at that time RC-4 (RMX-3 under the new Code), did not change.   Unless you have competent legal authority to the contrary, I would appreciate it if you would print a correction/apology.  Thanks.
 
[Text of Aug. 26 email:  Stanley:  In her article on Friday, Inga Saffron suggests that CCRA enabled the proposed Dranoff project by not contesting the change in the status of the parking lot.  For my own edification, if the lot had remained a private accessory lot, would Dranoff have been able to proceed with his proposed project without obtaining some sort of variance?    Thanks.]
 
Saffron has not presented any authority to the contrary.     
AUGUST 23, 2013
BROUHAHA RE: 25TH & LOCUST TOWER NEAR SCHUYLKILL PARK/COMMUNITY GARDEN 

 

On August 20, the CCRA board voted to oppose the Carl Dranoff One Riverside project, a 21 story, 167 unit high-rise to be situated on a surface parking lot located immediately north of the Community Gardens on the west side of 25th, south of Locust. The proposal  has caused a stir. At least 200 people attended an August 13 public meeting, most of whom spoke in opposition to either the entire project or various of its design parts. More than 400 people have signed a petition in opposition to the proposal and the project was featured in this morning's Changing Skyline column by  the Inquirer's Inga Saffron. The design has received conditional zoning approval and, consequently, is not scheduled for a Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing although the developer must appear before the City's Civic Design Review panel which convenes at 1 pm on Tues., Sept 3, 2013, on the 18th floor of 1515 Arch Street (One Parkway) Rm 18-029. The public may attend. Because the Association received only 7 business days notice of this hearing at a time when many of our most active volunteers are on pre Labor Day vacations, we have requested that the September 3 date be continued. A copy of  CCRA letter to the developer's attorney stating the Board's decision and requesting a continuance of the Civic Design Review hearing is attached.

 

AUGUST 12, 2013
ONE MONTH LEFT TO DESIGN PHILLY'S NEXT BIKE RACK

 
Calling designers, artists, and makers! In partnership with the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is issuing a call for proposals for bike racks to be installed around Philadelphia.  This competition is open to all artists and design professionals. The deadline for submission is September 4th.

 
AUGUST 1, 2013
SUMMER READING FOR URBANPHILES
Going down the shore and looking for some summer reading? Try downloading the Pew Research Initiative Report on "Delinquent Property Taxes in Philadelphia", not as riveting as 50 Shades of Grey - not that any CCRA member would be caught dead with that tome - but more informative. The bad news is not so much that the city is owed a half billion in unpaid real estate taxes (four times what the School District is looking for), but that about 70% of that sum is uncollectible, in part due to Philadelphia's large percentage of impoverished residents. There is some good news. The administration is once again talking about better collection practices,and recently released a Five-Point Plan To Reduce the City's Poverty called Shared Prosperity Philadelphia.   A long road to be sure. They've planned the work: now it's time to work the plan.

 

JULY 18, 2013

 

INTERESTING HI RISE SPROUTING AT19TH & ARCH  


Ground has broken on a mixed use commercial and rental residential project just north of the CCRA neighborhood in Logan Square at 1900 Arch. The building has an interesting H shaped configuration.  A 14 story wing with an east west axis on the southern side of the 1900 block of Arch is connected to a 6 story east west wing paralleling Cuthbert street by a 12 story connector wing on an north-south axis. In keeping with the CCRA neighborhood plan and that of Logan Square, the ground floor includes 26,000 feet of retail which should ensure a more active Arch St. pedestrian experience.  The upper floors contain 248 one and two bedroom rental units. On 19th Street, a 4,950 square foot landscaped courtyard will add greenery. In addition, the parking entry area between the wings on the west end of the H will provide outdoor space with a partial green roof for tenants. 134 parking spaces will be underground. The developer is PMC Property Group. The architect is Varenhorst. Completion is set for approximately Summer 2014

 

 

JULY 12, 2013

 

2300 SOUTH - MIXED USE DEVELOPMENT PRESENTATION, WED, 7/17 AT 7PM


CCRA has long recognized that many developments outside of CCRA's official boundaries, have a substantial impact on the CCRA neighborhood.  On Wed July 17 at 7pm, in the Shiloh Baptist Church, 2040 Christian, plans for a 5 story mixed use development at 2300 South will be presented to the Zoning Committee of our sister civic, South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA), whose boundaries extend from Washington Ave to the south side of South Street. The site is opposite the Dollar Store and catty corner from  South Square Market, and is presently occupied by a surface parking lot and the old Newman Galleries warehouse.  The plans currently call for 4600 square feet of retail on the ground floor, with an additional four stories containing 24 apartments. The SOSNA meeting is open to the public.

 

 

JUNE 28, 2013

 

WE HAVE OUR OWN BIKE OFFICER!


Among the ten largest cities, Philadelphia ranks as number one for bike commuters/per capita, twice as many as in LA,  more than three times as many as in that city that shall not be named in this column which is situated on the other side of the George Washington bridge. It gets better. On the streets of our neighborhood,  the incidence of bike usage is in the range of Portland, which, in addition to being hip city central, also leads the country in cyclists per capita.  It therefore is only fitting that our neighborhood, the City's best, has been assigned a permanent bike officer who will cover Lombard to Bainbridge, Broad Street to 25th. Hipness is not far behind.
 

 

 

 

JUNE 21, 2013

 

 

21 STORY RESIDENTIAL BUILDING AT 25TH NEAR LOCUST

Dranoff Properties is proposing a 21 story 167 unit building to be known as "One Riverside" on the space occupied by the public parking lot west of 25th Street between Locust and Manning Streets (north of the community garden). Yet to be determined is whether the units will be available for rental or sold as condos. In keeping with the Association's neighborhood plan, the ground floor will contain, in addition to a lobby, approximately 1,000 square feet  devoted to an active use - a café or other commercial operation located adjacent to railroad crossing entrance to the Schuylkill Trail.  86 parking spaces are planned for the basement and ground floor. Studios and one and two bedroom units will occupy floors 3 through 20 with five penthouse units on the 21st floor. Contrary to the Association's neighborhood plan, the above ground parking spaces are  not wrapped with an active use such as residential or commercial, though the developer is in the design stage of contributing greenery and other enhancements to improve the pedestrian experience.  Cars will enter and exit on 25th Street near Locust Street, while all loading and unloading will occur in an enclosed area on the south side of the project. The building features a terrace, fitness center, game room and club room. Because the property is zoned industrial, the project may not require any zoning variances but will be subject to advisory only Civic Design Review.  A CCRA Major Development Task Force has been assigned to the project. 

 

 

JUNE 14, 2013

 

PUBLIC MEETING RE REVERSAL OF 24TH STREET 

60 people gathered at The Philadelphia School last night to discuss a  Streets Department proposal to change the traffic flow from southbound to northbound on 24th between Bainbridge and South Streets while continuing parking on both sides of 24th. Click here to see Streets Department Proposal.   Streets Department representative Charles Denney explained that the Water Department construction will reduce 22nd between Bainbridge and South  from two northbound lanes to one.  Currently, northbound vehicles on Gray's Ferry and Bainbridge must turn right eastbound on Bainbridge then left northbound onto the 22nd St block where the work is scheduled. The Streets Department proposal would reduce 22nd St traffic by permitting cars at Grays Ferry and Bainbridge to continue north on 24th past South and onto Lombard. Denney advised that a  2008 traffic count on 24th south of Lombard done before the closure of the South Street bridge showed 230 vehicles per hour, a rate which he characterized as moderate, and estimated that the reversal would not increase traffic flow on 24th substantially.

 

The work, which is to last a maximum of 200 days, had been scheduled to start this summer but a Water Department representative, John DiGiulio, stated that the commencement had been pushed back to no earlier than September.

 

The  24th St proposal involves two separate blocks - Bainbridge to South and South to Lombard. On the Bainbridge to South block, the western side of 24th is slated for a Toll Brothers condominium building. Nancy Pillion of Toll Brothers told the group that Toll did not object to the proposal. On the other hand, Steve Rodriguez who plans to develop the triangular shaped parcel which borders 24th on the east at 613-27 South 24th  stated that the Streets Department traffic reversal Plan was the best  solution for the neighborhood as a whole even though it impacted some streets more than others.

 

Mark Thompson, an architect with offices on 24th between Lombard and South, spoke on behalf of a number of near neighbors in opposition to a traffic reversal on 24th between South and Lombard and presented a graphic proposing three alternatives: Click here to see the Thompson proposal.

 

* Changing the directions only on the block from Bainbridge to South
 
* Changing the direction of Bainbridge from 27th to Grays Ferry so that it runs west bound, not eastbound so that vehicles headed for the expressway would access the South Street bridge at 27th; and

 

* Changing Grays Ferry from Bainbridge to South St from one way south bound to both north and south bound.

 

A fourth alternative was suggested from the floor - changing 24th to  northbound from Grays Ferry to its terminus at Chestnut.

 

Thompson expressed concern that cars headed north on 24th might use westbound Naudain to circumvent traffic tieups at 24th and Lombard which would route traffic towards the new Philadelphia School campus. Denney stated "We have no desire to put additional traffic on the 2400 block of Naudain" and suggested that this issue could be addressed by converting the 2400 block of Naudain to one way eastbound.

 

A number of attendees inquired about the traffic counts noting that they had been gathered 5 years ago before the opening of Naval Square. Denney replied that there was still an opportunity to do new counts but that time was short.

 

SOSNA and CCRA plan to request that a traffic count be collected as soon as possible.

 

If you would like to be placed on an email alert chain re this project, email your email address to centercity@centercityresidents.org.
 
 

 

JUNE 7, 2013

 

28 STORY TOWER AT 20TH & MARKET  

Brandywine Realty Trust is proposing to erect a 28 story 278 unit  rental apartment tower on the northeast corner of 20th and Market (next door to the Blue Cross building) (click here to see a schematic of the building). This plot has been vacant since the demolition of the Sheraton hotel (which served a fine martini in its day). In keeping with the Association's neighborhood plan, the first two stories of the building's four story podium contain 25,000 square feet of retail/commercial on both Market and 20th street, a feature which should enliven the pedestrian experience.  The tower, which rises from the 5th to the 28th floor, will be set back 200 feet from the southern façade of the Kennedy House high rise to accommodate the privacy of Kennedy House residents with south facing windows. Floors three and four feature two story residential units with interior stair wells. Contrary to the Association's neighborhood plan, the 219 parking spaces are all above ground within a garage that is not wrapped with an active use such as residential or commercial.  Cars will enter and exit on 20th Street, while all loading and unloading will occur on Commerce Street, the alley street separating the site from Kennedy House. The building features a roof top pool adjacent to a fitness center and club room. Brandywine is shooting for a LEED silver certification and hopes to begin construction this Fall, with completion targeted for March of 2015. The project requires some modest variances and, under the new Zoning Code, will be subject to Civic Design Review.  CCRA has already assigned a Major Development Task Force for this project, and it will also be presented at a general membership meeting.  The details for that meeting, which will be held before July 31, will be posted here. The project will require zoning review.

 

 

MAY 31, 2013

 

REVERSAL OF 24TH STREET THIS SUMMER: JUNE 13 MEETING
 
The Water Dept. will be doing extensive sewer/pipe work this summer on the 2100 and 2200 blocks of Kater St., and on 22nd and 27th Streets between Bainbridge and South St.  The Streets Dept. anticipates substantial congestion resulting from this project, which could last up to 200 days, and has proposed temporarily reversing 24th St. from Grays Ferry Ave. to Lombard St. so that it would run north instead of south.  As we announced last week at our Annual Meeting, a public meeting to review this proposal will be held on June 13, at The Philadelphia School, 25th and Lombard, beginning at 5:30 SHARP.  Click here for further details, including a map comparing the current traffic flow with that proposed.
 
Coincidentally, the South X Schuylkill Committee, a joint task force comprised of members from CCRA, SOSNA, and the South Street West Business Assoc. to ensure that the prime growth area east of the South St. Bridge develops in a way that benefits the neighborhood, had identified the reversal of this section of 24th St. to reduce congestion; enhance vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian safety; and improve the business climate in this gateway.  Currently, northbound traffic on Grays Ferry at Bainbridge follows a "hook-shaped" pattern, traveling east on 22nd St. and west on Lombard St., in order to reach the South St. Bridge and I-76.  See Map.  On April 25, SxS wrote to the Streets Dept. requesting a study regarding a possible traffic reversal.  This summer's sewer/pipe work could provide a study in "real time."

 

 

MAY 24, 2013

 

CROSSTOWN AVI REPORT CRACKS ADMIN'S STONEWALL


On Wednesday, at a City Hall Press Conference, the Crosstown Coalition of Taxpayers (in which CCRA is a charter member) presented a 30 page data crammed report entitled "Actual Valuation-  A Flawed Initiative?". The report was authored by a Crosstown subcommittee chaired by Walt Spencer, newly elected CCRA treasurer.  The administration, which had not even acknowledged receiving 3 separate pieces of Coalition correspondence (let alone met their requests), stopped the stonewalling and made arrangements for Walt and his team to meet with City data crunchers on May 30. The Crosstown report notes a number of troubling issues including the underassessment of high end homes, and major discrepancies in land valuation. To read a copy of the report, click here.


 

MAY 17, 2013

 

CCRA COMMENTARY ON CITY PLAN

 

Two weeks ago, our What's New commentary focused on the Planning Commission's draft report for The Central District, one the 18 district plans being prepared as part of the 2035 vision for the growth of the City. This week the Association issued its comments on the draft plan. CCRA suggested that the Planning Commission keep a keen eye on the neighborhood's "Last Frontier", the large blocks of underdeveloped land around 23rd and Market. The draft report suggested  that "large format retailers" (think Target or Lowe's) might occupy the Last Frontier, a usage also discussed in a joint CCRA/ Logan Square Neighborhood Associaition study conducted in 2006. The CCRA letter cautioned that even though the convenience of large home goods/electronic retail would be an enhancement, these uses should be scaled and designed for our neighborhood. The ideal solution would be mixed use residential/retail. The letter also notes that the draft report did not address parking lot rate structures which provide discounts for all day parkers while charging short term parkers a premium - a program which discourages shoppers/short term visitors from enjoying our community.  For copies of the Draft Report, click here; and for the CCRA commentaryclick here.

 

May 10, 2013


CONTROLLER REPORT FINDS AVI INACCURATE

On Wednesday, City Controller Alan Butkovitz issued a report prepared by Robert Strauss, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, with three major take aways:


(1)        Less expensive homes are overassessed when compared to more expensive homes so that the less well to do will be paying more than their fare share - a result which favors our neighborhood, albeit unfairly.
   
(2)        The AVI reassessments are less accurate than the  assessments presently in place.

 

(3)        Basic data needed to properly assess properties was missing from the database assembled by the AVI team - items such as lot footage, presence of garage, etc.
 
The analysis done by the Crosstown Coalition of Taxpayers, of which CCRA is a charter member, also found numerous inaccuracies in AVI assessments.  The question presented is whether the flawed AVI reassessment should be implemented or whether the AVI assessment team should be given another year to correct the inaccuracies uncovered in the Butkovitz/Strauss analysis.

 

 

May 3, 2013

 

REPORT IDS WATCHLIST FOR NEIGHBORHOOD.

 

As part of the City's 2035 Plan, the Planning Commission  issued a report for the Central District which runs river to river between Poplar Street/Girard Ave and Washington Avenue/Christian St and includes our neighborhood. The draft report's "watch list" includes  the last parcels of underdeveloped land in CCRAdom, "The Northwest Frontier:"  the parking lots at 23rd and Market (west of Trader Joe's); and the  2200 Market Street site of the  adult entertainment venue, The Forum Theater, which closed after a zoning battle with CCRA. These parcels were the subject of a joint CCRA/Logan Square planning study conducted in 2007. Also on the watch list are the barren plazas separating the Penn Center buildings between 15th and 17th .  On transportation, the draft report suggests increasing permit parking fees  ( $20/yr to renew -$18 less than a ticket)  to discourage curbside  long term parking of vehicles only occasionally used.  Curiously, the report does not comment on the pricing structures of downtown garages which encourage all day parking and  discourage short term parking to the disadvantage of drivers who wish to do errands or make purchases in the City and then leave. The report also urges sprucing up the  19th and 22nd Street trolley stops on Market.   On JFK and Market between 15th and the Schuylkill,  the report recommends that vehicle lanes be reduced in favor of bike lanes and sidewalks. The entire Central District Plan may be viewed at Philadelphia2035.org.

 

April 25, 2013

 

EXTENSION OF THE SCHUYLKILL TRAIL


The neighborhood's  sidewalk superintendents have been ogling the construction barges on the east bank of the Schuylkill just north of the South Street bridge. The project, expected to be completed by Fall 2014, will extend the Schuylkill Banks trail from its present Locust Street terminus to a point 200 feet south of the South Street bridge, including a ramp that will connect to the South Street bridge. Because the land between the rail tracks and the river south of Locust narrows significantly, the trail extension will jog west about fifty feet into the river to form a concrete " boardwalk" which will be bordered by water on both sides and measure 17 feet wide, 15 usable feet when railing is taken into account.  The project's next phase, which has yet to be funded, calls for a further southward extension of the trail so that it may connect with a planned access bridge over the tracks at Catharine Street. Currently, the trail's peformance is gangbusters. Since an electronic counting system was installed two years ago, user trips have jumped from 13,000/wk to 19,000.


 

April 19, 2013

 

WHY HEAR THE CONTROLLER CANDIDATES?


Hmm. Why attend the Controller Candidates Debate Wed 4/24  7 pm, Freire School, 2027 Chestnut St? Let's count the ways this upcoming election matters. The City's pension deficit exceeds the $3.6 billion the City takes in each year. Of course, that figure doesn't take into account the Schools, which are on a separate budget. Whoops! The Schools, within the last 6 mos., borrowed $300 million just to keep the doors open and, according to this morning's paper, are going to the well for $300 million more. Never fret. The City is still open and providing services, right? Not really. There are those pesky rolling brown outs at fire stations and cuts in library hours. So come out and see the folks who claim they can help tame this deficit dragon. And, afterwards, mingle with the candidates at One Tippling Pace across the street which will have extended happy hour prices - $2 to $3 off.

 

April 12, 2013

 

AVI BILLS IN CITY COUNCIL 

 

Nine bills have been introduced in City Council dealing with the new realty tax program (AVI). Three are of particular interest.  Bill 130122, limited to taxpayers whose household annual income is under $130,000, defers that portion of the tax which exceeds 2.5 times the taxpayer's 2013 tax bill, until the property is sold. The deferral, which would be charged at bill interest rates, cannot be used to reduce taxes to less than $1,000. Bill 130142, which applies to all taxpayers, phases in tax increases over four years:  for 2014, the tax due would be calculated by adding one's 2013 tax bill (i.e., pre-AVI) to 25% of the difference between the 2013 bill and the 2014 tax bill; for 2015, the tax due would be calculated by adding together the tax paid in 2014 and 33% of the difference between that number and the 2014 tax bill; for 2016, the tax due would be calculated by adding together the tax paid in 2015 and 50% of the difference between that number and the 2014 tax bill; and for 2017, tax due would be the full amount of the 2014 tax bill. Bill 130081 would eliminate the Homestead Exemption entirely which would reduce the tax rate. 

 

April 5, 2013

 

QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT REALTY TAX ASSESSMENTS


Many of you may have read the April 4th Daily News editorial suggesting that the AVI reassessment was a job "pretty well done." The Crosstown Coalition of Taxpayers, of which CCRA is a member, has retained an academic to analyze the AVI figures.  The preliminary calculations suggest that the rate of error in the AVI program is not remotely close to the Administration's claimed 13.9% figure.  As part of the Crosstown Coalition, we issued a response to the Daily News editorial, attached, suggesting the newspaper conduct a similar statistical review.

 

March 22, 2013


AVI DATA ANALYSIS BY OPA


Last week we reported that the City's Office of Property Assessment (OPA) had not released all of the data it collected in its City wide realty reassessment. To date, we still have not received the official OPA data collection. However, through alternate channels, including a Freedom of Information Act request, we received a data disk which appears to contain the OPA information.  CCRA, along with sister civics in the Crosstown Coalition of Taxpayers, has hired a statistical analyst to review this information mountain.  Anecdotal reports received by Coalition members suggest that we should pay particular attention to:
 
- The Assessment of Commercial Properties - As we reported last week, back of the envelope calculations reveal that the City's 50 largest commercial properties would pay approximately $28 million less if the tax rate were 1.3%.
 
- The Assessment of Land - Land assessment is particularly sensitive for two reasons. Properties in the ten year tax abatement program, which pay no tax on improvements, still owe tax on the land.  Further, underassessment of land encourages speculative land banking and consequent blight.
 
- Geographic Marketing Areas - The OPA divided the City into more than 600 geographic marketing areas. The multiplicity of these GMAs may explain some of the anecdotal reports we receive as to varying assessments in neighboring properties.
 
- Multi Unit v. Single Unit, Row Home Assessments - Crosstown Coalition members have received a stream of complaints re: materially different assessments given to otherwise similar multi family and single family homes.

 

 

March 15, 2013

 

THE RELATIVE REALTY TAX BURDENS OF COMMERCIAL AND RESIDENTIAL

The City's Office of Property Assessment has still not released the data  collected in its citywide realty reassessment. The disks containing this data were  initially promised for delivery on February 15,  a date which was later deferred to  March 15, but as of yesterday is now postponed for a further one or two weeks.  The downloadable  information on line is missing key fields such as sale price, sale date etc.These omissions make it too time consuming for an all volunteer organization to do a city wide analysis of the new assessments. Even so, the data which is available reveals  that of the City's 50 largest commercial properties, 6 properties pay more in taxes while the remaining 44 pay less . The net revenue loss amounts to $28.1 million, assuming a 1.3 % tax rate, largely because the pre AVI assessments on these properties were closer to market value than the pre AVI assessments for small residential properties and single family homes. The anecdotal evidence, which cannot be comprehensively verified absent the data disks,  is that the  City's small commercial properties do not receive substantial tax savings because, like their residential counterparts, smaller commercial properties were not  assessed close to their market value under the old scheme. The relative realty tax burden of the commercial and residential communities is a key issue raised by AVI but, until the City releases its data disks we, as citizens, cannot engage in an informed discussion on this topic or on many other key issues raised by the AVI reassessment.

 

 

March 7, 2013

 

WEBSITE FOR INFORMATION ON NEW REALTY REASSESSMENTS


The AVI Calculator estimates next year's realty taxes and contains the reassessments for those who have not received their new realty assessments which the City started mailing on February 15. While the City has reassessed all 579,000 properties in Philadelphia, the Mayor and City Council have yet to decide on the realty tax package - what the tax rate will be and whether the tax package will include relief such as the Homestead Exemption.  The right side of the AVI calculator page enables users to plug in a tax rate and calculate their future tax bill and further revises that calculation depending on the existence/size of the homestead exemption. So far the rates mentioned by the politicians have been in the neighborhood of 1% to 1.5% and the amount of the Homestead Exemption has ranged from $10,000 to $30,000 although there has been discussion of eliminating the Homestead Exemption altogether.
 
Neighbors dissatisfied with their new assessment have two avenues of appeal.  Included in the City's reassessment mailing is a First Level Review Request form which must be filed by March 31, 2013.  This form initiates an administrative appeal procedure conducted by the City's Office of Property Assessment.  A second appeal to the Bureau of Revision of Taxes is also available to all taxpayers regardless of whether they filed a First Level Appeal. Appeals to the Bureau are due by October 7, 2013.
 
To read a CCRA Primer discussing the issues presented for resolution this Spring, click here.

 

February 15, 2013


CITY SUBSIDIZING SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS FOR BUSINESSES

 

The recent murder of Dr. Melissa Ketunuti was solved, in large measure, by the use of video taken from the surveillance cameras of neighborhood businesses. Video surveillance is widely recognized not only as a great asset in solving crimes, but also as a deterrent to the commission of crimes.  To encourage businesses to install outdoor video surveillance cameras, the City has recently created a "SafeCam Program" which will pay 50% of the costs of installing previously approved video cameras that are registered with the Police Dept., up to a maximum of $3,000.

 

On Wednesday, CCRA sent a letter to each of our Member Merchants, advising them of this Program, enclosing a copy of the Program Guidelines and Application Form, and asking them to participate.   Please help spread the word about the Program, and encourage neighborhood businesses to install such cameras.  And consider installing such a camera (perhaps sharing the cost with others on your block) outside your home.  While it is not likely to be eligible for the Program's subsidy (which is focused upon commercial establishments), it will increase our neighborhood's safety.

February 7, 2013


CITY PLANNING DO IT YOURSELF


The Philadelphia City Planning Commission launched an online city planning game which can be accessed at http://communityplanit.org/phl2035/ through Monday, February 18th. Alas, the game focuses on our neighbors to the West - University City, Powelton, Spruce Hill etc. BUT it's still fun to play and, if participation is keen, we just might qualify for a planit game in our end of town.
 
February 1, 2013

 

CCRA TESTIMONY RE REALTY TAXES

 

As discussed in CCRA's Primer on Philadelphia Real Estate Taxes, the market value assessments of the Actual Value Initiative ("AVI") may produce significant property tax increases for our members.  On Monday, CCRA President Jeff Braff testified before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Democratic Policy Committee on four bills introduced in Harrisburg to improve realty tax collections and mitigate the shock of oversize tax increases by:

 

-Permitting tax relief for long time (i.e. 10 years or more) owner-occupants based upon financial need and/or age.

 

-Amending the state constitution to permit taxation of commercial and residential property at different rates.

 

-Enabling the City to place a lien on delinquent owners's properties anywhere in the state, even properties which are not themselves delinquent.

 

-Permitting owners to spread their yearly payment over twelve months.

 

January 25, 2013
CCRA PRIMER ON NEW AVI REALTY TAXES
CCRA has prepared a 9 page Primer on the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), the reassessment of all properties in the City at fair market value. The new assessments are to be mailed next month. Tax bills due in 2014 will be the AVI reassessment multiplied by an AVI tax rate to be set by City Council and the Mayor this Spring. The Primer's discussion of the important/complicated issues raised by AVI is must reading for property owners in the City. To access the primer, click here.
January 18, 2013


The following area businesses help make
CCRA programs and activities possible with
 their financial and other support:


© 2010-2017 Center City Residents' Association. All Rights Reserved.
1608 Walnut Street, 12th Floor Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: 215.546.6719 | Email: centercity@centercityresidents.org
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software