Proposed Somerton project off the table

Councilman Brian O’Neill and State Rep. Martina White delivered updates on two important issues to the civic associations.

TIMES FILE PHOTO

The Somerton Civic Association last week welcomed City Councilman Brian O’Neill, who discussed the possibility of a land deal involving city property in Somerton, and state Rep. Martina White, who gave an update on SLAPP lawsuit legislation.

The land owned by PIDC/PAID behind housing on Stevens Road has been unoccupied for decades. O’Neill gave a historical background on the land and the planned use of an “Italian American Cultural Club” that was set to take place a couple of decades ago during Mayor Rendell’s administration. This club never came into fruition and the whole thing dissolved about “10–12 years ago,” according to O’Neill.

O’Neill has said PIDC has been marketing this land separated into two parcels, one below a creek, and above the creek. O’Neill stated that a large company was checking out the 60-some-acre land that is zoned “industrial.” The deal was expected to bring in a distribution center serviced by trucks on the wooded parcel extending behind the old firehouse on Byberry Road, between the railroad tracks and an unbuilt portion of Northeast Avenue connecting to Byberry, according to the Somerton Civic Association.

“For the people on Stevens Road, it’s not going to happen,” said O’Neill.

He stated after meeting with the neighbors on Stevens Road that he couldn’t support the land use.

“I think it’s a certainty that the deal is dead, it’s been dead for a few hours now,” said O’Neill.

O’Neill said the company would need his support for this project to go through. The company was marketed as “light industrial,” but he thought it was “not the kind of light industrial that belongs behind people’s houses.”

Having said that, O’Neill stated this should be an ongoing conversation with the neighbors to see what may come of this land. He stated that PIDC has a $6 million total for this land, and other uses could be possible for this land. Some members of the civic association posed the question whether the land could be made into a park, which O’Neill said he could look into.

In other news:

State Rep. Martina White discussed SLAPP legislation and where it currently stands in the House Judiciary Committee. In late January, City Council held a hearing examining the challenges faced by Registered Community Organizations from lawsuits commonly known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Many Northeast Philadelphia civic associations that are “RCOs” were in attendance for this hearing and stated their hope to address the issue through legislation. Senate Bill 95, which plans to address SLAPP lawsuits across the state, passed the Senate and is in the House Judiciary Committee.

White recognized the needed action for these SLAPP lawsuits, but wasn’t sure this specific bill would remedy the issue. White stated that she believes certain parts of the bill are “unconstitutional” and didn’t appear optimistic that this will get through the House of Representatives regardless.

However, White will draft a House Resolution, “requesting the courts change their proceedings in a manner they deem appropriate that will address the SLAPP lawsuits,” said Will Patterson, a White staffer.

White also promoted an opioid forum she will be hosting on March 22 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at KleinLife, 10100 Jamison Ave. The first forum will feature a Russian translator. There will be a second opioid forum hosted by White at Archbishop Ryan on April 12.

Representatives from PECO addressed an upcoming project in Somerton. The project will begin mid-end of March until October. The project is intended to address the problem of frequent power outages in Somerton. This will include replacing 60–70 transformers that are currently underground and place them above ground. Representatives from PECO stated that the transformers will be a maximum height of 40 inches and they can place vegetation around the transformers to make them more aesthetically pleasing. ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com