It’s Not too Late to Rescue Sharswood From PHA Eminent Domain Plan


“Plan, or be planned for.”

This was the mantra community activists in Philadelphia’s Mantua neighborhood adopted in their efforts to regain control of the neighborhood’s future from the institutions that threatened to overrun it from the south.

On the other side of the river, a number of Sharswood residents thought that what they were engaging in with the Philadelphia Housing Authority was planning: a joint process by which they and the PHA would together determine the neighborhood’s future course after the authority demolished the Norman Blumberg Apartments at its center.

Then, as the final plans were still officially months away, the PHA revealed its hand: Sharswood was being planned for. Read more »

Council Committee OKs PHA Land Grab in Sharswood


At Tuesday’s Philadelphia City Council Rules Committee hearing, Philadelphia Housing Authority President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah painted a picture of a Sharswood whose residents lived in affordable homes with access to a thriving business district, good education, health care and employment opportunities, the product of its redeveloping some 1,300 parcels of land it wishes to acquire via eminent domain with new homes, offices and retail space.

The Rules Committee bought the picture, voting to refer a bill allowing the PHA to proceed with the land acquisition to the full Council. But some 20 city residents who testified against the bill weren’t buying it at all. Read more »

NLNA Digs Into Two Big Developments, Including Ortlieb Square

The Ortlieb Square Plan | Photo: Sandy Smith, Rendering: JKR Partners

The Ortlieb Square Plan | Photo: Sandy Smith, Rendering: JKR Partners

Update (June 5, 4:00 p.m.): John Farina, developer/builder with U.S. Construction, tells Property that the Ortlieb Square project is on pace to move forward and could start construction by August 1. Also, we originally reported that Ortlieb Square would be duplexes. The project will actually be 36 townhomes with three apartments (“flats”) above the corner retail. We have updated the post below to reflect these changes.

Original: Had things gone as originally planned, two developers would likely have come before the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association Zoning Committee at its May meeting on the 18th to present their plans for large-scale residential development on two equally large lots in the neighborhood.

But Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments eventually decided not to pursue redevelopment of the razed Ortlieb brewery at American and Poplar streets, so as a result, one developer/builder—U.S. Construction—and one architectural firm—JKR Partners—ended up giving presentations on both it and a similar project planned for the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Fairmount Avenue.

In basic concept and layout, the two projects are nearly identical: The Ortlieb Square development is to have 36 townhomes, while the Fairmount Avenue project will have 38. Both will include a structure at a prominent intersection that combines ground-level corner retail space with apartments above as a means of enlivening the development. Three apartments would sit above the corner retail at Ortlieb Square.

This would ordinarily mean that the neighbors and members of the Zoning Committee would take a fine-toothed comb to the proposal and knock it about over issues of building height, lot coverage, effect on parking and traffic and the like. But there was an important difference between the two projects that altered the course of conversation for one of them. Read more »

Here Are Maps of All of SEPTA’s Proposed Route Changes

Spring is here, which means it’s time for SEPTA’s annual planning ritual. The Annual Service Plan is where SEPTA lays out the route changes it intends to make in its bus and rail lines and puts them before you, the riding public, for feedback.

This year, SEPTA plans changes to 16 bus and rail routes in the city and the suburbs to improve operating efficiency and beef up service. Here’s a map of each proposed change with a brief explanation: Read more »

SEPTA Announces Trenton Line Contingency Plan in Wake of Amtrak Crash

Photo | Sandy Smith

SEPTA deputy general manager Joe Knueppel. Photo | Sandy Smith

The crash of Amtrak train 188 at Frankford Junction last night also threw SEPTA’s Trenton Regional Rail line out of commission. After throwing extra trains on nearby lines for this morning’s commute, SEPTA officials this afternoon outlined their alternate plans for getting the Trenton Line’s 12,000 daily riders to and from Center City while Amtrak repairs the damage on the Northeast Corridor.

Deputy General Manager Joe Knueppel gave the details at a news conference at SEPTA’s control center at its Center City headquarters. The alternate services consist of: Read more »

The Roosevelt Boulevard Subway Is Dead … Unless It Isn’t

Renderings of (clockwise from left) the Roosevelt Boulevard Subway Extension viewed from the Northeast and two views of a proposed Northeast town center at Cottman Avenue Station, all circa the Philadelpha City Planning Commission's 2003 Roosevelt Boulevard Corridor Study.

SUBWAY DAYDREAMING: Renderings of (clockwise from left) the Roosevelt Boulevard Subway Extension viewed from the Northeast and two views of a proposed Northeast town center at Cottman Avenue Station, all circa the Philadelpha City Planning Commission’s 2003 Roosevelt Boulevard Corridor Study.

If you haven’t been paying attention to tunnel-digging news out of the Pacific Northwest — and, I get it, you probably haven’t — you should know that out in Seattle they have a giant tunnel-boring machine called “Bertha,” and that Bertha got stuck a few hundred feet into its job of digging a two-mile-long highway. She was finally freed last month for repairs and once she’s back in business, work on the long-stalled project to replace an aging freeway viaduct will resume.

Total price tag for the two-mile tunnel: $3 billion.

Why should anyone in Philadelphia care about this?

Well, according to at least one regional planning official quoted in the press, that’s about how much it would cost to build a subway-elevated line (including a tunnel) more than four times as long along Roosevelt Boulevard (though, okay, another study put the price tag closer to $4.6 billion). Read more »

Broad Street Run, Festivals Will Make a Mess of SEPTA All Weekend Long


A weekend full of festivals and the Broad Street Run on Sunday will cause detours on a slew of SEPTA bus routes.

The reroutings begin at 8 p.m. Friday, when all of the bus routes that run on or cross the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from 19th to 23rd streets — Routes 7, 32, 33, 38 and 48 — will be detoured for the Philadelphia Science Festival Carnival. The detours will remain in effect until at least 11 p.m. Saturday.

Three more detours begin early Saturday morning: Read more »

NLNA Gives Finnigan’s Wake Conversion Plans A Trim

So, Finnigan's Wake could look dramatically different. | Image: Sandy Smith

Early Conceptual designs show that Finnigan’s Wake could look dramatically different. | Image: Sandy Smith | Designs: Atkin Olshin Schade Architects

There have been times when the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association Zoning Committee has stopped developments in their tracks because of the strong objections of a single near neighbor.

That didn’t happen at the committee’s March 30 meeting, and boy, was that neighbor pissed about that.

Instead, the committee expressed general approval of a plan to build an addition on top of the former Finnigan’s Wake at Third and Spring Garden streets and only asked that the developer take about 20 feet off of the proposed 75-foot-high structure.

Architect Sam Olshin of Atkin Oshin Schade Architects, presenting on behalf of developer Stockton Real Estate Advisors, explained that the addition, Read more »

SEPTA Unveils Renderings of 15th Street Station Renovations

There’s good news, bad news and “bad news with a but” about the long-planned, long-delayed reconstruction of City Hall Station on the Broad Street Line and 15th Street Station on the Market-Frankford Line.

The first, but perhaps unavoidable, bit of bad news: The hordes that will descend upon Philadelphia for the World Conference of Families starring Pope Francis this fall and the Democratic National Convention next summer will experience the same dingy, cramped platforms and passages we have had to endure for more than 85 years. Read more »

Sharswood Residents Experiencing PHA Deja Vu


The Norman Blumberg Apartments. Photo | PHA

Longtime residents of Sharswood, a part of the city located just north of Girard College in North Philadelphia, can tell you exactly when their neighborhood started heading south: 1969. That was the year the Philadelphia Housing Authority opened the Norman Blumberg Apartments, a 501-unit array of high-rise towers and low-rise garden apartments near its center. The crime that came with the tenants who moved into the project sent the neighborhood’s black middle class residents fleeing, starting a cycle of decay and abandonment.

The residents now living there have been meeting regularly of late with the Philadelphia Housing Authority to hasten the day when the project disappears. Last year, the PHA received a Choice Neighborhoods grant from the Federal government to plan for the Blumberg project’s replacement and study what should follow in its place.

One of those residents is a more recent arrival, a guy from Illinois named Adam Lang. Lang settled in Sharswood almost a decade ago with an eye on sticking around the neighborhood. He soon got involved in both Republican politics and neighborhood issues, working with neighbors to help bring a supermarket (the since-closed Bottom Dollar) to the area and taking an active role in the neighborhood civic association, which has devoted much time and energy toward restoring the neighborhood to the condition it was in before the PHA opened the Blumberg project.

His neighbors have, as a result, accepted him as part of the community. He hosts movie nights and other neighborhood events on the empty lots next door to his house, lots that he purchased from the PHA with the aim of making them a side yard for his home.

Imagine his surprise, then, when he got a letter from the PHA on January 15th saying the agency might want to take them back sometime this fall. Read more »

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