Plans progress for Philadelphia2035 project

Planning ahead: Community stakeholders participated in the first North Delaware District meeting for the Philadelphia2035 project last Thursday. Above, one of the reports discussed revealed that one-fourth of district residents commute to the suburbs for work, while 24 percent travel to Center City and 11 percent stay within the district. WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO

People who live and do business in the neighborhoods along the North Delaware River waterfront think quite highly of many features of their communities.

Some folks enjoy the diverse retail shopping districts and malls. Others take advantage of the highly rated educational institutions and easily accessible transportation options. Just about everyone views the area’s parks and recreation centers as a strength.

Those were some of the consensus observations of about 40 community stakeholders who participated in the City Planning Commission’s first North Delaware District meeting for the Philadelphia2035 project last Thursday evening at the Holmesburg Recreation Center.

North Delaware is the third of five Northeast-based districts to start the months-long planning process, which is intended to shape the area’s physical development over the next 20 years. Commission officials hope to release the new North Delaware District plan by February, much like they’ve already done for the Lower Northeast and Central Northeast districts. Two other Northeast-based districts — Upper Far Northeast and Lower Far Northeast — are classified as “future phases.” Citywide, there are 18 districts including 10 that have completed plans and two that are in progress as part of the decade-long project.

“We’re hoping to get as many stakeholders engaged and provide a variety of opportunities for them to contribute,” said City Planner Larissa Klevan, the North Delaware project manager. “We’re interested in every person’s opinion. We’re trying to get everybody’s ideas on paper. Our final objective is to produce a plan that will guide development in the North Delaware District.”

Geographically, the district includes all or parts of Wissinoming, Tacony, Mayfair, Holmesburg, Upper Holmesburg and East Torresdale. The territory spans as far south as the Frankford Arsenal and Cheltenham Avenue in the Wissinoming area and as far west as Bustleton Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard in Mayfair. It narrows in the northern end, spanning from the river to Frankford Avenue through Upper Holmesburg and East Torresdale. It has about six miles of riverfront property, much of it unutilized or under-utilized industrial land.

In keeping with the standard district planning process, Klevan briefed meeting attendees on relevant trends for the area, including demographics, housing and employment, as researched by the commission staff. Population increased to almost 93,000 in the 2010 census as compared to just under 90,000 a decade earlier, reversing a slight population decline in the previous decade. The senior population is declining, but all other age groups are growing.

Ethnic diversity is growing, too. In 1990, 97 percent of residents were white. Twenty years later, the white population was 74 percent, with 13.3 percent black, 4.2 percent Asian and 5.5 percent other races. The planning commission also reports that Latino population of any race in the district grew from 1.2 percent in 1990 to 12.1 percent in 2010. However, such a comparison is likely invalid because the U.S. Census Bureau changed how it documents race and “Hispanic or Latino” ethnicity for the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

The North Delaware District has a lower poverty rate (17.6 percent) than the city as a whole (26.5 percent), a higher median income ($40,147 to $37,192) and a high homeownership rate (67.5 percent to 54.1 percent), according to the latest available data. However, homeowner-occupancy declined from 74 percent to 63 percent between 1990 and 2010 while the rental rate increased from 22 percent to 30 and vacant home rate from 4 percent to 7.

“The trend we want to keep an eye on is the percentage of rental housing units versus owner-occupied units is rising,” Klevan said.

The largest employment sectors for district residents are government (14 percent), health care and social assistance (13), education (13), retail (13) and manufacturing (10). The largest individual employers were city government (2,200 workers), Dietz & Watson (650), Holy Family University (300), Acme (300) and Kmart (300). One-fourth of district residents commute to the suburbs for work, while 24 percent travel to Center City and 11 percent stay within the district.

After Klevan’s report, attendees broke into small working groups and used colored markers to chart physical features on table-top maps. They were asked to identify strengths and weaknesses of the district, along with areas for potential improvement and barriers preventing access to or development of local assets.

The array of stakeholders included representatives from the East Torresdale, Mayfair and even Parkwood civic associations (although Parkwood is not in the North Delaware District), the Northeast Quality of Life Coalition, Mayfair and Tacony Community Development Corporations, Holmesburg Fish and Game Club, PennDOT, city agencies, state legislative offices and the local business community.

“I think a lot of us talked about green-space issues like trails and access to the river itself,” said Linde Lauff, president of the Friends of Pennypack Park. “And others were concerned about having green in their own areas. There are streets that don’t have any trees. That’s in any neighborhood.”

Alex Balloon, executive director of the Tacony Community Development Corporation, has invested a lot of effort in reviving Torresdale Avenue in recent years. But there’s a lot more work to be done there and elsewhere.

“We talked a lot about commercial corridors and gateways, particularly Mayfair, Tacony and Holmesburg, and reducing vacancy rates on the avenue,” Balloon said.

Adge Martin, a board member for East Torresdale Civic Association and committeewoman from Delaire Landing, thinks that communities like hers should be most concerned about preserving what they have.

“We’re very happy with our area,” Martin said. “We have the (Linden Avenue) fish hatcheries, the (Glen Foerd) mansion and the (Torresdale) train station, although they want to improve that.”

Martin added that many people would like to see the former Liddonfield Homes public housing project redeveloped in the community’s best interests.

There will two more public meetings for the North Delaware District. One will be to discuss “opportunity areas” further, while the final session will be an open house for the draft district plan. The schedule is to be announced. ••