The final large, public meeting on the the Lower North District Plan – which will serve as the city's guide to future development in North Philadelphia, North Central, Norris Square, Olde Kensington, South Kensington, West Kensington, Yorktown, Ludlow, Brewerytown, Green Hills, Cecil B Moore, Sharswood, Strawberry Mansion – will be held Dec. 11.
Lower North is one of 18 districts for which the Philadelphia City Planning Commission has or will create these targeted development plans, which apply and fine-tune the goals of the city wide comprehensive plan, Philadelphia 2035, to address the needs of a particular section of the city.
Lower North boasts a host of amenities: Good public transit. Proximity to both Center City and Fairmount Park. Important and growing institutions, including Temple University and St. Joe's Prep. Stable blocks of homeowners.
Yet, city planners have said from the beginning that this district plan will be among the toughest nto achieve.
In Lower North Philadelphia, 13 percent of properties are vacant. There are about 4,000 vacant buildings, 80 percent of which were once residential or partly residential. There are 10,600 vacant lots, 40 percent of which are owned by the city or city-related agencies.
While district residents and city planners both attribute some of the vacancies to previous city attempts at neighborhood revitalization, there has also been a huge decline in population. The district peaked at 271,994 residents in 1950. In 2010, 95,176 people lived in it – and that is an uptick of 140 people from 2000.
The vacancies include both residential and commercial properties, and city planner and North District Plan manager David Fecteau has said this is the first plan the city has tackled in which the areas in which people live will need to be condensed, and city services will need to be consolidated.
The Dec. 11 meeting will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Room 217 at the Howard Gittis Student Center at Temple University, 1755 N. 13th Street. This is between Cecil B. Moore and Montgomery. While this is the last scheduled large public meeting, Fecteau said in a recent interview he will still be available to discuss the plan with any interested community groups.
The priority recommendations from the plan – those which planners believe to be the most important – will be presented at the meeting. The first hour will be in an open house format, with boards that present and depict the recommendations around the room and planners stationed at each one, so people who attend can ask questions and give feedback.
That will be followed by a ten-minute presentation on the plan, and about 20 minutes of questions from the public.
The draft plan will be presented to planning commissioners at their meeting the day before, on Dec. 10, Fecteau said. The content of the presentation to the commission and the public is still being refined.
Afterward, the draft plan will be posted online at the Philadelphia 2035 website. The public comment period will remain open through the beginning of February. Planners will then use comments from the public and commissioners to refine the plan, and commissioners will consider adoption of the final draft at their Feb. 18 meeting.
Based on earlier presentations, the plan recommendations will likely include establishing zones where special incentive prices on city-owned property would be in effect, including two in Strawberry Mansion and others in North Central and near Norris Square.
Preliminary recommendations also included two geographical focus areas for targeted investment: Ridge Avenue, where planners believe there will be demand for housing within the next 10 years and where larger-format retail, such as a green grocer, would be appropriate; and American Street near Germantown Avenue, where some former industrial parcels would become residential or commercial while others would be preserved as a job-creation zone.
Kellie Patrick Gates writes about planning, neighborhood development and the Central Delaware Waterfront. A journalist for more than two decades, she worked for daily newspapers in Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and South Florida before coming to Philadelphia in 2003 to write for the Inquirer. Her work has appeared on PlanPhilly since 2007, and she also writes Love, the Inquirer's weekly wedding column. A native of Elk County, Pa., Kellie lives with her husband, Gary, and their dog and two cats.
Follow her on Twitter @KelliePGates