UPS warehouse a hot topic at Somerton Civic

Councilman Brian O’Neill is skeptical of proposals offered by his colleague, David Oh, aimed at helping neighbors concerned about a warehouse planned for Red Lion Road.

Councilman At-Large David Oh speaks March 10 during the Somerton Civic Association meeting about his ideas surrounding a planned warehouse at 1 Red Lion Road. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Councilman At-Large David Oh has stepped headlong into the discussion over a 1 million-square-foot UPS warehouse planned for 1 Red Lion Road.

Earlier this month, Oh spoke to residents in Bustleton, and, last week, he addressed neighbors at the Somerton Civic Association meeting about how he could help them get more information about the controversial project.

Oh, in an interview, admitted that it is “unusual” for an at-large Council member to intervene on an issue inside a colleague’s district, but he believes there is a potential citywide solution. He also said he’s not afraid to act in the face of a public outcry.

“I have to do my job,” Oh, who lives in Southwest Philly, told the Times. “I represent everyone in the city.”

At the March 10 civic meeting, Oh told residents he could introduce a bill mandating that certain large industrial projects go through the Civic Design Review process, which would trigger a community meeting and presentation to a committee of experts in Center City.

In addition, Oh said he could potentially introduce legislation putting restrictions on vehicles, if a traffic study shows the distribution center would have a significant impact on roads and congestion.

Either avenue would require a citywide approach or overwhelming support from the community, Oh said.

Tenth District Councilman Brian O’Neill said he doesn’t mind Oh’s involvement. However, he doesn’t think Oh’s suggested CDR bill would ease the concerns of neighbors.

“I don’t think it helps at all, but I don’t think it hurts, either,” O’Neill said. “To me, it’s almost a distraction because it really doesn’t mean anything but it appears on the surface like it might.”

Members of the CDR committee look at the architectural design of a building, and O’Neill doesn’t believe residents of Somerton or Bustleton necessarily care about the look of the warehouse. It will probably be a boxy building like most other distribution centers, he added.

Even so, the CDR committee’s recommendations are nonbinding, and O’Neill said the body, which currently does not examine industrial projects on industrially zoned sites, doesn’t analyze traffic.

Oh told the Times he wanted to discuss his ideas with O’Neill, but the longtime Northeast Philly councilman doesn’t seem too interested in a conversation.

“Councilman Oh didn’t talk to me about it, and I’m not about to talk to him about it,” O’Neill said.

Oh said he doesn’t plan to introduce legislation unless and until residents request it. 

Somerton Civic President Chris Bordelon said he and members of the group’s board met March 5 with the developer’s lawyer and an official with a project management company.

They didn’t learn much about the warehouse plan, Bordelon said, and he believes residents are only receiving carefully curated information as part of a communications strategy. 

“We either heard no information at all or we heard very limited details that they warned us weren’t finalized or reliable,” he said.

No one from O’Neill’s office was at the March 10 meeting, and he has not sent representatives since a clash between his aide, Alice Udovich, and Bordelon several months ago.

O’Neill said his staff isn’t comfortable attending the meetings and dealing with Bordelon’s accusations and rhetoric. 

“He has become adversarial, and I don’t need that,” O’Neill said. 

Bordelon has accused O’Neill in the past of knowing more about the project than he has told residents and not doing enough to help neighbors fight the plan. 

Representatives from the companies involved in the UPS warehouse project originally scheduled a community meeting on March 31, but the meeting was cancelled due to coronavirus.

Zoning

Somerton Civic members approved three zoning applications.

The owner of a home at 11101 Greiner Road received support for a variance legalizing the conversion of a garage door into a wall. A previous owner of the property made the change more than 10 years ago.

Another homeowner was given the green light to pursue an application to close up his garage and turn it into a home office and recreation room at 11029 Rennard St.

Finally, a woman looking to bring her existing Warminster baking business, Unik Cakes, into her home at 15018 Theresa Drive received a unanimous vote of support. She makes specialty cakes for weddings and other occasions and is looking to downsize. 

Other news

Residents approved a motion to sign on to a federal court brief with other civic associations opposing the establishment of a supervised injection site in the city. Members also moved to add such facilities to a list of uses the civic requests commercial property owners seeking variances to prohibit through deed restrictions.

The Somerton Civic Association’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, at the Walker Lodge of the I.O.O.F., 1290 Southampton Road. ••