Scofflaw Developers Continue to Build on City-Owned Land

The collapse of a building being demolished in 2013 that destroyed a Salvation Army thrift store triggered stepped-up city efforts to crack down on rogue developers. Those efforts have been less than effective, a new investigation reveals. | Photo: Sandy Smith via PhillyLiving.com, 2013

If you want to acquire city-owned land for your development, you should have all your permitting, licensing and tax-compliance ducks in a row.

At least, that’s how things are supposed to work. But the reality is different.

Instead, city efforts to catch development scofflaws have used a net that’s as full of holes as Swiss cheese — holes big enough for rogue builders to swim right through. Read more »

City Announces Developer for MOVE Bombing Area

In this May 1985 photo, scores of row houses burn in a fire in the west Philadelphia neighborhood. Police dropped a bomb on the militant group MOVE's home on May 13, 1985 in an attempt to arrest members, leading to the burning of scores of homes in the neighborhood.

In this May 1985 photo, scores of row houses burn in a fire in the west Philadelphia neighborhood. Police dropped a bomb on the militant group MOVE’s home on May 13, 1985 in an attempt to arrest members, leading to the burning of scores of homes in the neighborhood.

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority has chosen a company to redevelop 36 rowhomes in West Philadelphia where police bombed a house full of black liberationists in 1985, killing 11 – including five children – and destroying more than 50 homes.  Read more »

Developers Duel for Right to Build on Chinatown Block

Site plans for the two proposals: Pennrose's on the left, Parkway's on the right. | Renderings: WRT (left) / Cecil Baker & Partners (right) via Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority

Site plans for the two proposals: Pennrose’s on the left, Parkway’s on the right. | Renderings: WRT (left) / Cecil Baker & Partners (right) via Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority

Two of Philly’s local development heavyweights, Pennrose Properties and Parkway Corporation, are duking it out for the right to develop a parcel of land the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority owns on Chinatown’s eastern edge.

This past Monday evening, the developers made their cases for their projects at an informational meeting in Chinatown.

The site in question takes up three-quarters of the block bounded by 8th, 9th, Race and Vine streets. Ridge Avenue once split this block in two diagonally, and the Chinatown station on the Broad-Ridge Spur lies beneath it as a result. This, along with the Commuter Tunnel running north-south under the station, placed some constraints on what the developers could build on the site.

The two projects are similar in several respects, but there are some key differences. Read more »

Can Philly Fix the Block It Razed, Then Shabbily Rebuilt, After MOVE Bombing?

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Photo Credit: Peter Morgan | AP Photo

There’s no historical marker at 6221 Osage Avenue to tell the casual passersby what happened here in 1985 — that the Philadelphia Police Department dropped a bomb on a houseful of black liberationists who called themselves MOVE, that 11 people were killed, that the city ultimately decided to “let the fire burn,” and that more than 50 homes were destroyed in the ensuing blaze.

But if you walk the block today, it’s still clear that something went wrong. Half the homes on the 6200 blocks of Osage Avenue and Pine Street are vacant; front doors are covered with slabs of plywood and padlocked. The fire stopped burning 30 years ago, but the wounds have never healed.

It’s not that the city didn’t try to fix it. For the families who happened to live nearby, whose homes were collateral damage in the bombing, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority moved fast. It took the properties by eminent domain and hired a developer to build new houses. But the developer didn’t do a good job. Fifteen years later, when it was clear that the homes all had the same problems, after trying to do repairs, PRA sought to take the houses back again. Most of the residents took the money the PRA offered, cut their losses, and left. Only a handful stayed.

Since then, for the last decade and a half, nothing much has happened there. The vacant rowhomes have sat empty, eroding from exposure and time, reminding their neighbors every day of one of the most violent nights in the history of the city. The broken development isn’t a historical marker, but it tells the story in painful detail nonetheless.

“You have the underlying set of traumatic events, and then you layer on top of that the fact that the investment itself was shoddy,” says Amy Laura Cahn, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center. “There was not enough investment. Basically, the community was not worth it.”

Now the Redevelopment Authority is trying to get it right. Last week, it announced that it’s looking for a developer to come in and fix 36 empty homes that will then be sold to private owners.

“Because some of the PRA-owned properties abut owner-occupied units, developers should be prepared to make every effort to address safety issues and prevent work that would adversely affect occupied properties,” the Authority wrote in the Request for Proposals. “Developer should also be respectful of the area’s challenged history and the trauma that adjacent residents may have experienced.” Read more »

City Wants Development With ‘Social Impact’ At 8th and Race

The lot on the northwest corner of 8th and Race is currently used for parking | Image from Google

The lot on the northwest corner of 8th and Race is currently used for parking. | Image from Google

The surface parking lot on Race Street between 8th and 9th is one of the biggest empty spaces remaining in Center City, and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority is hoping its transformation will serve a purpose broader than the developer’s bottom line.

Later this month*, PRA will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the lot. For the first time, the Authority will require developers to describe the “social impact” of their development proposals. The social impact component is open-ended, including anything from affordable housing and minority-business participation to healthy food access, job creation, or even simple cash donations to nonprofits or community groups. Greg Heller, the director of the PRA, says he’s just hoping to be convinced that a particular proposal will be the best one for the neighborhood and the city. Read more »

City to Seek Development Proposals for Historic Germantown YWCA

Germantown YWCA | Google

Germantown YWCA | Google Street View image

The Germantown YWCA, a hulking, historic shell of a building on Germantown Avenue near Vernon Park, could be headed for a new life.

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority plans to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to redevelop the building next week, PRA Director Greg Heller told Philly Mag on Tuesday. The Authority isn’t putting any restrictions on the proposed use of the building in the RFP, Heller said.

“We want to see what developers come up with,” he said. Read more »

Of Tiny Houses, Urban Farming and Big Plans at the Logan Triangle

The Logan Triangle | Photo: Sandy Smith

The Logan Triangle | Photo: Sandy Smith

One thing that has become clear as the Goldenberg Group proceeds down a long path towards building something on the 40-acre wasteland called the Logan Triangle is this: No one—not the Redevelopment Authority, not the developer it picked, nor the Logan residents themselves—wants to give Paul Glover’s Logan Orchard and Market (LOAM) project the brush-off.

The trouble is, both the city and the neighborhood stakeholders want money to meet community needs. (In fact, it was the lack of money that put this redevelopment plan on ice when the Logan Community Development Corporation, which was spearheading the plan, abruptly shut down in 2014.) And the only thing that will produce that kind of money is a large-scale redevelopment project on the Triangle itself.

Read more »

Logan Orchard and Market: The Showdown at Wingohocking Creek

The Logan Triangle | Google Maps

The Logan Triangle | Google Maps

From Marshall Street on the east to 11th on the west, from Louden Street on the north to Roosevelt Boulevard on the south, the Logan Triangle is a 40-acre wasteland. But it could be 40 acres of parkland, and gardens, and tiny homes that could sit lightly on the land.

That’s the 40-acre opportunity Paul Glover and a collection of like-minded souls see in the Triangle, which became said wasteland in 1986 after yet another gas-main explosion took out several houses and revealed just how far most of the others around them had sunk (more on that later). This vision sounded appealing to the 50 or so people who came out to the Friends Center on July 13th for a meeting to discuss how to get it off the ground.

But there’s a hitch: realizing the vision would require the cooperation of the owner of those 40 acres. Since 2012, that’s been the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

Read more »

James Dupree Will Get to Keep His Mantua Art Studio

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Back in January, we told you about James Dupree’s Mantua art studio. The city wanted to use eminent domain to take the studio from Dupree. It wanted the space for a supermarket.

Well, there is news: Today, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority announced it was dropping the condemnation of Dupree’s property. The PRA says legal costs defending Dupree’s appeal of the condemnation would be too much.

“Despite all the work to date, PRA will end condemnation proceedings enabling Mr. Dupree to keep his studio,” the PRA announced in a release. “While we have explored the potential of building around Mr. Dupree’s property, a viable project under these conditions is not possible. In short, the inability to acquire Mr. Dupree’s property puts the prospect of bringing fresh food to this community at serious risk.”

Read more »