Category Archives: Government

Redevelopment of Germantown’s YWCA about more than just one building

The shuttered YWCA.

The shuttered YWCA.

UPDATED: 4:30 PM February 17, 2015

Local media turned it’s attention to development in Northwest Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood this week as journalists reported on the fate of the historic YWCA building. Set on the 5800 block of Germantown Avenue, the building frames the northern side of leafy Vernon Park and fronts the commercial corridor. The week’s tales of woe, much of which centered on whether the building would face demolition or redevelopment, left me feeling very sad about Germantown as a neighborhood and place I call home, frustrated but not at a loss for words.

Here’s my letter to The Inquirer in response to architecture critic Inga Saffron’s take in her Changing Skyline column, published in the Tuesday, February 17th Opinion section (glad it’s back to two pages of commentary):

Promising neighborhood deserves better

TEXT: When it comes to planning and development, the Germantown community is feeling its way through the dark (“Without Y, Germantown loses part of its past,” Feb. 13). Where, for starters, is the City Planning Commission’s district plan for Germantown?

Whatever happens with the neighborhood’s vacant YWCA will affect its central park, its commercial corridor, and the future development of Germantown in a big way.

I know Germantown has what it takes. And I’m looking for change I can believe in, not change I’m mildly OK with. But if the wave of development sweeping the neighborhood now doesn’t meet my expectations, I will, with a heavy heart, look for a new place to live, work, and play.

I have already invested (and sacrificed) years making a positive difference on my own block, only to be crushed by the weight of insurmountable problems – poverty, ever more diminished city services, and the lack of oversight or feigned interest of the city agencies handling inspections and public housing.

I want neighborhood reinvestment that excites me. I’m young. I’m civically engaged. But I’m burning out fast. And I could use a good shot of espresso at a café in my very own neighborhood, as well as the ability to stop at a convenience store that isn’t reminding me over a loudspeaker every minute that I’m on camera.

We should have opportunities and we should have options to shape a grand vision for Germantown.

Emaleigh Doley, Philadelphia,

The Germantown YWCA serves as a border for Vernon Park and as a backdrop to the Pastorius Memorial. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

The Germantown YWCA serves as a border for Vernon Park and as a backdrop to the Pastorius Memorial. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

The Philadelphia Inquirer ads to its stock photography collection of developer Ken Weinstein, here outside of the Germantown YWCA. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

The Philadelphia Inquirer ads to its stock photography collection of developer Ken Weinstein, here outside of the Germantown YWCA. (Credit: The Philadelphia Inquirer / Rachel Wisniewski)

big-news-clipart-200x243In the news

1. The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s architecture critic Inga Saffron pens an ode to the old building and brings the hammer down on councilmanic prerogative: Changing Skyline: Political battle could topple Germantown Y.

2. Earlier in the week, The Inquirer‘s city hall reporter Claudia Vargas captured Councilwoman Cindy Bass’ point of view: What’s to become of the old Germantown YWCA? The article notes the Councilwoman doesn’t want more subsidized housing at this location on Germantown Avenue. Bass says that given Germantown’s potential, time is needed to find the right plan for the old Y. “Land in Germantown, I believe, is becoming more and more valuable as we speak.”

3. Flying Kite Media offered a recap of the January 22, 2015 community meeting about the fate of the YWCA building, convened by Germantown United CDC.

4. Here on The W Rockland Street Project blog, my top 5 questions about the YWCA redevelopment leading up to the January 22 meeting.

5. A range of opinion and community conversation on Changing Germantown:

Map view


New Parking Lot Coming to Germantown Avenue Commercial Corridor

The 5300 block of Germantown Avenue will soon be home to a new 19-space surface parking lot at the corner of W Penn Street, joining two existing lots that front the commercial corridor within a single block. The grassy property is owned by developer Ken Weinstein, who is also renovating the six story building across the street at 5301 Germantown Avenue.

There is much possibility in Philadelphia’s vacant land, so the idea of yet another private lot is nothing short of a buzzkill to this stretch of the corridor, which is showing a glint of possibility marked by new businesses, new construction projects and renovations.

While a parking lot may not sound very exciting, Weinstein’s development in its entirety remains one of the most significant along the corridor in years. It has however proved difficult to get much information about.

Future surface parking lot on the 5300 block of Germantown Ave at E Penn St, looking towards 5301 Germantown Ave.

Future surface parking lot on the 5300 block of Germantown Ave at Penn St, looking towards the Hosley Temple Church and 5301 Germantown Ave.

In the summer, a group of concerned Germantown residents (myself included) and business owners frustrated by a lack of transparency reached out to the Department of Licenses and Inspections and various other agencies of the city with questions about the development process and potential impact on the neighborhood.

The primary concern is what appears to be the subversion of the city’s zoning process which in effect has prevented public notifications about the nature of the building use, stifling dialogue and community input. L&I’s decision-making overlooks many principles of comprehensive planning set forth in the new zoning code.

Site of the forthcoming parking lot 5300 block of Germantown Ave at W Penn St

Site of the forthcoming parking lot 5300 block of Germantown Ave at W Penn St

The parking lot and the six story building sit on a largely historic stretch of Germantown Avenue at opposite corners of Penn Street just one block away from Germantown Friends School, Cunningham Piano, and Grumblethorpe. A misleading sign posted on the building facade advertises it will house new market rate apartments and a cafe/restaurant space. The primary use of the building however is a 100-bed residential shelter that will serve more than 600 people each year. When pressed for more information about the additional use, Ken Weinstein has stated that he cannot legally discuss it. The building has been partially occupied since July and the commercial space is nearly complete and seeking a tenant. The listing from Philly Office Retail says “DRIVE BY TO SEE THE ACTION!!!” Spread the word…

The parking lot, which is not yet under construction, will be located on the contiguous parcels of land at 5322, 5324 and 5326-28 Germantown Avenue at W Penn Street, across the street from the building under discussion. The two other large private lots on the block serve Germantown Friends School and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Hosley Temple Church and the new Around The Clock Home Health Care office (currently under construction) have wide driveway entrances on the Avenue and private parking lots tucked away behind their buildings. The entire block has free on-street parking throughout. Which begs the question – how many parking lots are too many for one block of Germantown Avenue? Surface lots on city blocks create distance between destinations and add little to the streetscape. This dead space no doubt impacts the surrounding business corridor and overall pedestrian experience. A walk along the neighboring 5400 or 5200 blocks of Germantown Avenue tell a different story.

5300 Block of Germantown Ave - Google Maps - Lots

“Yay, surface parking,” said nobody ever.@dragonballyee via Twitter. Note, map satellite image does not show the new construction between Hosley Temple Church and the Germantown Friends School parking lot on the east side of Germantown Avenue.

News of the parking lot is but one conundrum. If you’re anything like me, you probably have a lot more questions about how each component of the 5301 Germantown Avenue development will fit together. But good luck getting your questions answered.

In the interest of a more transparent process, included below is our most recent correspondence about the development with L&I.

Germantowners should have a voice in the rebuilding of our neighborhood and the right to know and ask questions about new developments that impact where we live, work and play – for better or worse.

An informed citizenry is an asset to the revitalization of Germantown.

Read more

The Move to Remake Maplewood Mall, See Plans at September 9 Public Meeting

After two years of planning, the City of Philadelphia is moving forward with efforts to revitalize Maplewood Mall in Germantown. A public meeting and presentation of draft alternatives for the reconstruction project will be held on Tuesday, September 9 from 7pm to 8:30pm at First Presbyterian Church at 35 West Chelten Avenue.

Attendees will have the opportunity to provide comment and help steer the design of Mall, which is located just off of Armat Street, between Germantown Avenue and Greene Street.

There has been much excitement about this latest opportunity to revitalize the street. Just how much excitement? Here’s six seconds from the first Re-imagining Maplewood Mall block party which was held on June 22, 2013.

The failed urban Mall was conceived in the 1970s as a mixed-use pedestrian street. That didn’t quite work out as planned, for a number of reasons. The flow of cars and pedestrians is but one problem. General maintenance and crumbling infrastructure is another chronic issue. Bradley Maule at Hidden City Philadelphia offers an overview of all that went wrong.

Weeds and more weeds pop through the brick sidewalk. Photo by Emaleigh Doley. July 25, 2014.

Weeds and more weeds pop through the brick sidewalk. Photo by Emaleigh Doley. July 25, 2014.

Neighbors in Germantown plotting what they'd like to see improve in Maplewood Mall. Photo by Emaleigh Doley. June 22,2013.

Neighbors in Germantown plotting what they’d like to see improve in Maplewood Mall. Photo by Emaleigh Doley. June 22,2013.

Photo by Emaleigh Doley. April 10, 2014.

Photo by Emaleigh Doley. April 10, 2014.

In May 2014, it was announced that Whitman, Requardt & Associates (WRA) will serve as the design and engineering team, alongside LRSLA Studio who was selected as the landscape architects for the project. WRA “most recently led the design and engineering for the conversion of the Manayunk Bridge from an abandoned rail bridge to the City’s first pedestrian/bicycle-only crossing of the Schuylkill River” (currently under construction). LRSLA Studio’s work will also be familiar to many. Recent public space projects include The Porch at 30th Street Station and Hawthorne Park in South Philadelphia.

press release issued by Matt Wysong and the Philadelphia City Planning Commission noted that:
“The City seeks to go beyond just a bricks and mortar reconstruction of the street and engage in a “placemaking” project. Through review of community visioning, consideration of previous studies, and the injection of professional expertise, the consultant team will provide a design that will create a framework for the reinvention of the Mall into a vibrant and successful urban space.
This project is unique in its inter-agency collaboration. The City’s project team includes 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Department of Commerce, Parks & Recreation, City Planning Commission, Capital Projects Office, and Department of Streets. The project will be paid for using Department of Commerce neighborhood commercial corridor capital funding.
The scope of professional services shall include: preliminary, final design and construction documents for bidding. The Consultant Team will consider various alternatives for realigning and reconfiguring the roadway and plazas, traffic restrictions on the Mall, the functionality of spaces for events and pedestrian use, sustainable design practices, the provision of parking, maintaining access for loading and drop off, the incorporation of site specific public art, the possibility of new development parcels, and the use of construction materials and methods that allow for easy maintenance and repair in the future… Design and engineering are anticipated for completion in May of 2015. Construction will commence following an additional bid process.”
Contact: Matt Wysong, Philadelphia City Planning Commission, 215.683.4650

What’s Happening at 5301 Germantown Avenue?

5301 Germantown Ave

5301 Germantown Avenue

A group of Germantown residents, business owners, and property owners have submitted a letter of inquiry to L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams calling for a review of the commercial and residential development at 5301 Germantown Avenue.

In the letter, of which I am a co-signer, the group questions the process through which zoning was obtained and whether or not the project is consistent with the goals of developing mixed-use commercial districts.

At six stories (that’s soaring in Germantown), the building sits on a largely historic stretch of Germantown Avenue below Chelten Avenue and is perhaps the biggest non-commercial redevelopment in years. Yet significant aspects of the project remain shrouded in secrecy.

As advertised on a sign posted to the building facade, 5301 Germantown Avenue is said to feature a 1,600 sq ft cafe or restaurant space on the ground floor and 11 market rate apartments (one and two-bedroom units). The primary use of the building however is reputed to be a 100-bed residential shelter, managed by an unnamed non-profit. The developer, Ken Weinstein of Philly Office Retail, has stated publicly at several community meetings that he cannot legally disclose the name of the non-profit tenant or the nature of the additional residential use. This has baffled residents living nearby, generating unnecessary confusion about the development. The distrust and frustration could no doubt have been mitigated by a more transparent development process.

Interestingly, many local news publications have covered the renovation at 5301 and the community’s response, including WHYY’s NewsWorks (most recently here, here, and here), The Philadelphia Tribune, and The Independent Voice. None of the stories from the press however explore the legality of the unnamed use, or how exactly the developer secured the required zoning, bypassing public disclosures, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and the Registered Community Organization review process.

For full disclosure, the text of the aforementioned email and enclosures sent to Commissioner Williams and copied to a list of public leaders and officials, follows below in it’s entirety.

Read more

Council control of development? Song of The Day: “My Prerogative”

The Philadelphia Inquirer has penned an important editorial about Council control of development that pretty much everyone should read. It’s a serious problem and if you’re working on neighborhood development issues, you best pay attention.

This latest unfortunate news details how City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. blocked the construction of dozens of new houses in the fourth district “with the help of councilmanic prerogative, an unwritten rule that allows district Council members to control development on their turf.”

The only thing I have to add that the good reporters at the Inquirer didn’t say is this: whenever I read about councilmanic prerogative, I usually hear the chorus to Bobby Brown’s classic 80’s jam “My Prerogative” in my head and I think you should too. “I don’t need permission / Make my own decisions (Oh!) That’s my prerogative.” Pull it up on Spotify and give it a listen. Or better yet, watch the music video.

While its difficult to look beyond the greatness of this dance hit, the reality of councilmanic prerogative is just oh so sad.

“For the first time in decades, Philadelphia has been growing. Council bossism shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way,” closes the Inquirer. Forealz. I’ll leave it at that.

Read more: “De facto” land taking could cost Phila. dearly later.

Fourth District City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. (via Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

Fourth District City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. (via Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

“Ego trips is not my thing.”

Philadelphia City Council Neighborhood Budget Hearing

If you don’t feel like making the trip to City Hall to weigh-in on Mayor Nutter’s proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, attend City Council’s neighborhood Budget Hearing on Wednesday, April 30 at West Oak Lane Charter School from 6:00pm – 9:00pm. Citizens are encouraged to provide testimony to Council members on their views and suggestions for the budget. The April 30 meeting will be the ONLY neighborhood Budget Hearing. The meeting previously scheduled in mid-May was cancelled. Although there will be other opportunities for public comment, they will be at City Hall.

For more information on the budget:

West Oak Lane Charter School is located at 7115 Stenton Avenue [directions].


Attend: SW Germantown PhillyRising Meeting, Thursday, March 27

Coming up! Get involved in PhillyRising and help shape Germantown’s future.

Learn more about what PhillyRising means for the neighborhood.

PR meeting pic

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