City planners recommend new Woodhaven study

Philadelphia’s City Planning Commission wants state transportation officials to resume the study of a possible Woodhaven Road extension almost a decade after authorities effectively abandoned the idea amid massive community opposition.

The commission formally and unanimously adopted its new Woodhaven Road policy on Tuesday afternoon as part of the Philadelphia 2035 Far Northeast Districts Plan. Several members of the Somerton Civic Association testified during the public meeting that they did not support the inclusion of the Woodhaven Road component in the 2035 plan. Chris Bordelon, president of the SCA, asked the commission to delay approving the 2035 plan until after further dialogue between commission staff and neighbors of the proposed road extension.

“We’ll have to consider our options, but we regard this merely as a first step in a process that will result in significant changes to what has been presented so far,” said Bordelon, who is an attorney. “I think it’s important that we came down, made our opinions known and put on record the positions that we did.”

The Far Northeast Districts Plan resulted from a 10-month process directed by City Planner Greg Waldman to assess and provide recommendations for future development of commercial and industrial properties, residential neighborhoods, parks and recreation facilities, transportation and other components of the physical environment. The process included three public meetings and a series of private stakeholder meetings, followed by a public comment period.

The territory involved includes the neighborhoods of Somerton, Bustleton, Parkwood, Normandy, Morrell Park, West Torresdale and other sections.

The Somerton Civic Association realized that the Woodhaven Road extension had become part of the dialogue early this year when Waldman presented a draft version of the plan during the SCA’s monthly meeting. Immediate reactions among SCA members ranged from skepticism to disbelief. The last time a public agency proposed an extension was in 2008 when residents of Somerton and Montgomery County voted overwhelmingly in opposition to the concept of a parkway-style roadway connecting the existing western terminus of the Woodhaven Expressway with Bustleton Avenue or Philmont Avenue.

Conversely, Waldman’s draft plan used the parkway model as an example of a possible extension that might be employed to reduce traffic congestion on Byberry Road and adjoining streets.

Bordelon argued on Tuesday that the public meeting process directed by the city planner was “inadequate” for gauging true public sentiment for a Woodhaven Road project. About 27 people attended one of the public meetings, less than half that routinely attend the monthly Somerton Civic meetings.

“I attended the first couple of meetings and I would suggest that planning commission staff outnumbered the members of the community,” Bordelon said.

Bordelon and other Somerton residents Donna Bordelon (Chris’ mother), Jennifer Cianfarini and Rosemary Moffit further testified of their concerns over other components of the draft plan. They disagreed with proposed zoning changes that could facilitate new apartments near the Somerton and Forest Hills train stations. They advocated for the addition of more open-space protections in the plan.

In response, Waldman and commission members noted that the commission does not direct specific construction projects and that residents would have input on a Woodhaven Road study directed by state transportation officials.

“Any future development in the (Woodhaven) right of way, whether it be a road or a trail, would require public outreach coordinated by PennDOT,” Waldman said. ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.