Somerton, O’Neill continue debate over land use

O’Neill made public he would not approve the industrial project.

In the zone: Councilman Brian O’Neill discussed the possible land use behind Stevens Road during a recent Somerton Civic Association meeting. He told the group that there was interest from a large company in purchasing some of the land zoned as “industrial.” TIMES FILE PHOTO

By John Cole

Last Thursday, Councilman Brian O’Neill continued a dialogue with residents of Somerton about the possible land use behind Stevens Road, owned by PIDC/PAID. State Sen. John Sabatina was also in attendance for this roundtable discussion.

At the Somerton Civic Association meeting two nights prior, O’Neill told the group that there was interest from a large company in purchasing some of the land zoned as “industrial.” The land has been unoccupied for several decades despite hopes of building an “Italian-American Cultural Club” that was planned during Mayor Rendell’s administration. O’Neill stated that club never came into fruition and the whole thing dissolved about “10–12 years ago.”

O’Neill stated that PIDC has been marketing this 60-some-acre territory, separated into two parcels, by a creek, for quite some time now. The recent 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.

O’Neill made public at that meeting that he would not approve of such an industrial project.

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

The company was marketed as “light industrial,” but he thought it was “not the kind of light industrial that belongs behind people’s houses.”

Despite the failed effort of the company to purchase the land, O’Neill wanted to discuss with residents of Stevens Road and concerned members of Somerton about what should be done with the land and what type of use would they be open to.

O’Neill stated that PIDC was looking for $6 million total for the whole land, approximately $150,000 an acre, which he said is “actually cheap.”

O’Neill stated that Parks and Rec won’t buy the land because he doesn’t believe it has the money or the interest. Some members at the discussion and meeting two nights prior floated the idea of having it made into a park.

O’Neill said they could perhaps look into what foundations “have money” and would be interested in preserving the land.

O’Neill cited a state park in Florida called MacArthur State Park as a reference to a situation in which land was purchased and preserved without much maintenance.

O’Neill said in the next couple of weeks he will have conversations with PIDC in regard to other possible land use. O’Neill stated he will keep those residents who live in that area in the loop to any new possible developments and encouraged them to recommend specific ideas for it. ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com