A Northeast Philadelphia scrap metal business is planning to buy the Delaware River waterfront land that was being considered last year as a possible site for a controversial new city prison.
City Councilman Bobby Henon on Thursday introduced legislation to change the zoning of 7777R State Road to suit the newly proposed use. Meanwhile, the president of Morris Iron and Steel Company, Ron Greller, said on Friday that the company has agreed to buy the 58-acre parcel for an undisclosed price if the zoning bill passes into law. A holding company controlled by BNP Paribas bank owns the site, which has an assessed value of $7.34 million.
Morris would expand its scrap metal processing and shipping activities from its existing 25-acre facility at 7345 Milnor St. The company has agreed to allow continued public access to the waterfront for the Delaware River Greenway Trail and a planned mini-park that Henon described as a lookout point.
“From a land use point of view, as a good business and a good neighbor, I’m glad there’s an opportunity for Morris Iron and Steel to expand its operations and use a property that has been vacant for twenty years,” Henon said.
Morris is a fourth-generation family business with about 100 employees. The expansion could create an additional 20 to 30 jobs, Greller said. The company deals in wholesale scrap metals and is one of the East Coast’s largest brokers in nonferrous metals such as copper, brass, aluminum and stainless steel. The business accepts shipments from retail-level collectors, sorts the metals and packages them for delivery to foundries. Morris does not melt metal on site.
Most important to Morris in the proposed land deal is that the State Road parcel has river access, whereas Milnor Street does not. A lot of the company’s customers are moving to southern states where ground transportation is not practical, according to the president. With river access, Morris will be able to ship via barges while staying in Northeast Philadelphia.
Greller said that Morris will keep its Milnor Street property and use a private driveway to transport materials between the two sites, rather than public streets. The sites are separated by about 400 yards. A neighboring business has agreed to grant access to Morris for the driveway, Greller said.
Henon’s bill would convert the property from a residential zoning designation to industrial. A neighboring 13-acre parcel, 7777 State Road, is already zoned industrial.
At one time, 7777 and 7777R were a single parcel owned by Northern Metals Company. In 2005, Henon’s predecessor in City Council’s 6th district, the late Joan Krajewski, had the zoning changed from industrial to residential. A housing developer then bought the property, subdivided it and announced plans to build townhouses, condominiums and apartments. The project failed and the builder defaulted on a loan, prompting a sheriff’s sale.
Last spring, then-Mayor Michael Nutter asked Henon to sponsor a bill to allow the city to buy 7777R for up to $7.26 million so that it could be evaluated as the potential site of a new prison to replace the antiquated and crumbling House of Correction.
Critics of the idea argued that the city should spend money on improving schools rather than building prisons. Other opponents argued that a prison wouldn’t make best use of the site’s potentially valuable waterfront access. Henon withdrew the bill.
The new plan satisfies both business and recreational interests, according to the councilman.
“(Morris) is a real good neighbor and they are enthusiastically allowing for the Delaware River path to go through and for the design of a lookout point,” Henon said. “It’s a good family business that’s going to live on and now they have an opportunity to expand and compete.” ••