A day after Community Council’s zoning committee voted unanimously to green-light new riverfront development, East Falls’ other RCO initiates a democratic vote of members. But first: neighbors on both sides discuss plans for an “organic” playground at McMichael.
East Falls Forward‘s proceedings got off to a careful start with a polite and delicately-phrased conversation about how Joyce Brady’s new McMichael Playground group can best cooperate with Friends of McMichael Park, an organization that made it clear they do not approve of Joyce’s plans in a letter released by their coordinator earlier this week.
Christina Kistler (speaking as a Friend, but not for the Friends) feels that the Friends would need more information to agree to a playground here,
“Because there wasn’t a clear thing to say yay or nay, their first response is ‘We would rather the park would stay the way it is.'”
The playground group contends they have a plan, though: the roughly 25′ x 25′ space where the turtle & wall are in the park now, perhaps extended as far as the nearby benches. They also have a design concept, thanks to Stanton Street artist Dan Ostrov, whose “Knotted Grotto” sculpture was blessed by Pope Francis at the Basilica last September.
These days, Dan works with steam-bent wood molded into organic shapes. He envisions a play area that fits into the natural aesthetic of the park, “It doesn’t look like it’s created but like it already should be there… “ He feels an undefined play space invites imagination, and challenges kids to figure out how to interact with the form.
He, his wife Stephanie, and Joyce’s husband, Jim, have created a life-size prototype for this Sunday’s Falls Flea in McMichael Park. We’ll all get a chance to see how kids interact with Dan’s design, and how such a structure looks in our park.
Perhaps seeing what Joyce and her group have in mind for McMichael will provide the Friends with the visual input they seek to consider a playground in their park?
Er, our park, that is. It’s easy to forget a group like the Friends of McMichael doesn’t actually own the park they prune & plant. Gina Snyder suggested that Friends groups likely don’t even have jurisdiction to vote off a playground, if enough residents want one.
Gina also seemed almost relieved to unload her own experiences with the last time the community proposed a new playground. Although Christina seemed to recall a neighborhood vote for Inn Yard Park over McMichael, Gina strongly disagreed:
“I was on that playground committee. We proposed having a discussion about putting it at McMichael. And that was shot down…
“The highest priority location was McMichael, and when we had the meeting to even talk about the idea, it was such a contentious meeting that… the playground committee dissolved.”
Would’ve been interesting to hear from more Friends, but unfortunately only Christina showed up — who deserves big props, by the way, for fielding as many questions she could, and rolling gracefully with the ones she couldn’t.
After the playground discussion ended, East Falls Forward began its general meeting — basically a recap of Grasso’s presentation for Zoning the night before. Vice chair Ryan Buchert reviewed 19 slides on an overhead screen, welcoming audience questions and comments, such as:
- How many units, and what kinda rent? 200 units, starting at about $1800/month — 1 & 2 bedroom apartments, and some studios.
- What kind of green certification? The building will be Energy Star-certified, one step down from LEED. There will be an extensive green roof system with storm water reservoir.
- How long until we have something here? If Grasso receives all approvals, he’s set to break ground in 5 months, and estimates construction should take about 18 months to complete.
- Are we really getting Indego bike share? Gina handled this one — EFDC has been trying to get us a bike share forever! One problem is that we need good locations for 3 stations within a quarter mile from each other (Indego requires this). She’s thinking maybe the Twin Bridges, the train station, and now here at the Falls Bridge would make a nice triangle. EFDC still needs funding etc but it’s not a question of if but when this happens, she said.
- What kind of supermarket? Grasso hasn’t given specifics but he says of the five chains he’s approaching, two are National and three are local. But he’s very adamant there will be one here.
So what happens now? He’ll present to Philadelphia’s Zoning Board of Adjustments after both RCO’s submit their recommendations — probably sometime in June or July.
Before announcing a vote, EFF chair Felicite Moorman asked Gina a great question: Has any other development on this site ever gotten as far as Grasso has?
Gina agreed that zoning approvals are a big part of the process, but the real test is whether investors actually spend money and build. Global City got this far, but then the recession hit and they lost their financing. This Grasso project seems “most real” to her.
Ryan pointed out discussion at Grasso’s presentation regarding economic cycles, and how Philadelphia is building now but might not be in a few years. If we pass on this project, we may miss our window of opportunity.
“No pressure,” Felicite joked, and announced that however you feel about Grasso’s plans, your opinion will count in EFF’s upcoming, fully-democratic vote. VOTING IS OPEN UNTIL MIDNIGHT 5-22! Forwarders have been emailed a ballot and instructions how to respond (basically, click!).
If you aren’t a member, add your email to the list and you’ll automatically be included. And you might be the winner of the EFF’s next raffle, held at every meeting.
MOPPING UP: More playground video (what the heck there was a lot of it):
A little bio from Dan Ostrov, first local artist on the playground’s design team, a sculptor from Tyler School of Art here in Philly. FUN FACT: He has the blessed piece of the “Knotted Grotto” in his studio, removed to make the structure wheelchair accessible when it was relocated to a Chinatown pocket park.
A neighbor reacts to Dan’s presentation, praising his design and wondering what could be the reason for the Friends opposition.
PLAYGROUND AT MCMICHAEL? Get your voice in the mix:
Petition to SAY YES to a natural playground.
Petition to SAY NO to a playground here.