Update 12-18-19: It’s coming! It’s coming! Ground breaks on Grasso, the neighborhood does a happy dance.
Original post August 17, 2018
An old dream rekindles at the last EF zoning meeting, as a new one begins on Scotts Lane. And one doozie of a rumor for Midvale!
With no voting or formal appeals for approval, August’s public zoning meeting for East Falls was surprisingly well-attended. Heading in, some neighbors seemed charged up about a pervasive rumor that Chuck’s Garage (3515 Midvale Ave) was selling to a developer, who was going to put in a big apartment building with no parking.
A community dude on East Falls Rants checked the property’s zoning and it appears to be “CMX 2.5” which allows buildings up to 55’ with no need for a variance. The property is like over 15k sq ft of area – zoning here permits one unit per 270 square feet.
“You can do a ton of units with no parking by right, “Sean Suter explained, “57 if they build 55’ high. Damn.”
Damn indeed. So far, nothing’s been confirmed nor permits issued but neighbors seem on high alert…. Getting ready for a fight if necessary.
Perhaps that’s why the energy at this meeting was a little extra tense and reactive starting off?
EFCC president Bill Epstein seemed especially cranky, yelling at everyone to start the meeting and then refusing to acknowledge East Falls Forward. “This is a joint meeting with Ridge Allegheny Hunting Park and the East Falls Community Council!” he shouted at EFF chair Felicite Moorman, waving his arms, “That’s what the sign outside says. I’m sorry!”
No, dude, I’m sorry. Clearly, you’re having a hard time with the existence of another voting body in the community. I feel for you, really I do, but the whole temper tantrum thing in public is not helping you demonstrate authority.
And it doesn’t change the fact that East Falls has TWO Registered Community Organizations (RCOs). By law, any RCOs within specified boundaries are to be provided the same zoning information. Developers present to a joint meeting of those RCOs, who then meet separately with their general membership to discuss & vote.
When EFCC fails to provide zoning materials and include EFF in meetings/correspondence with developers, they’re limiting who gets to know about neighborhood changes that affect all of us. That’s not fair. Over 300 voting members of East Falls Forward deserve the same information as EFCC members, and an equal seat at the table. This isn’t war, or even business – it’s community, for crying out loud. You guys can do this! The word “community” is literally your middle name!
Moving onto Scott’s Lane…
I think most of us agree that Scotts Lane presents both driving and walking hazards with the added complication of that CSX bridge that “owns” the stretch near Ridge Ave — seems like that part of the road can never be widened nor the bridge messed with in any way. Not to mention the 27 units coming to the corner property (where the old Catfish Café came down) will bring more cars to an area that can get congested.
So now Callahan Ward wants to bring 92 units to the big parking lot off Scotts at the railroad crossing. They’d like to green up all that concrete with natural meadow-y landscaping around a modern residential community with a mix of multi-family, duplex, and single family homes. (Owners, not renters; price points roughly high $200k’s/low $300’s with the townhomes in the $500k range)
Their project will require remapping of the lot’s zoning from RSA5 to RM1, to allow for multi-family development, so they’re gonna need community support. This meeting was just an overview, there’s nothing official proposed yet – when the builders are ready to move forward, they’ll hold another public meeting here where neighbor will be able to ask questions & voice concerns. Some key points discussed:
DESIGN: A blend of the typical Philadelphia rowhouses but East Falls has some rural elements so they aimed to combine both aesthetically. To me, the renderings kinda look like beach houses. Or maybe airplane hangars. Whatever, they’ll be off in their own little campus so it’s not like they’re competing with local architecture.
PARKING: 122 parking spaces – townhomes & duplexes will have their own parking, the condos will share the remaining perimeter spots with guests. (Breakdown 70 duplexes, 10 single family, 12 triplexes, 42 guest/visitor)
TRAFFIC: They’ve done a traffic study and data conservatively shows that there would be minimal impact on Scott’s Lane’s traffic even during peak times. Still, to further facilitate traffic, the developer is creating a 2nd point of entry off a drive that’ll go behind NewCourtland and come out at Henry Avenue (at the light across from Abbotsford).
Their numbers for this model show that drivers will add 36 “trips” in and out to Scotts Lane during peak hour (7:45 – 8:45am, 5:00pm – 6:00pm). Which is an insignificant number with no impact on traffic. “It’s like one car every three to four minutes,” their traffic engineer explained.
Despite these assurances, neighbor responses seemed overwhelmingly fearful of the traffic this development would produce. “You don’t live here, you don’t know!” was the general reaction to Callahan Ward’s research & data. When asked what times she considered “peak hours” for traffic in the neighborhood, one woman insisted, “24/7, it’s a constant wave of cars.”
How do you argue with that? Callahan Ward tried to address the same points a few times over, and then stressed that their presentation was just an overview, they will be returning to the community for more feedback soon (likely this fall).
So – Grasso! IT’S ALIVE!!!
That ugly lot across from the Falls Bridge. Trash-strewn site of the old “Rivage” night club and lingering blight on our business corridor. Back in 2016, Grasso Holdings sold us a 6-story apartment building with a café and a supermarket and Indego bikes and subterranean parking and a cool “green wall” art installation and he had community support and the city’s permission and we were all waiting for him to break ground but then…. <crickets>
Now the project has risen again and Grasso’s ready to get rolling asap! The project has a new architect now, KTGY Group out of the DC area. For the last year they’ve been tweaking the plans, and they’ve changed it enough to call for another Civic Design Review, which means the city wants to take a look at the design before they start building. FYI, their findings are not binding and the project can go ahead regardless of how CDR feels. As part of this process, another public meeting needs to be held in the community, which is also basically a formality.
At this month’s zoning meeting, Grasso Holding’s Director of Development walked the audience through the presentation they’ll be giving for the CDR September 4th (recap by PhillyVoice.com) Updates to the original plan include:
A straightforward wood frame construction. Instead of six stories at 80 feet high, the building will be five stories and only 60 feet – four stories of residential, with commercial on the ground floor. 142 units, down from 204 – with 118 parking spaces for residents as well as customers. There will be no underground parking. They still plan to include a café, an Indego bike station and also some sort of fresh market or grocer.
Entrances on Ridge and Kelly Drive (on Kelly, only right turns in and out). PennDOT is still requiring them to add a 3rd lane on Calumet (for turning) and one on Ridge (rush hour traffic, off-peak parking).
Neighbors spent quite some time arguing the finer points of traffic flow and parking availability, neither of which matters – this project has been approved. The meeting was just an opportunity for the community to weigh in on the architecture, because it’s often helpful for designers to get input from outside sources. Grasso’s architects are not required to take the advice given them, it’s just like a service the city provides for new construction of a certain scale.
Two voices going way back with East Falls’ Development Corporation chimed in about the wall proposed on Kelly Drive. “Didn’t that cut us off from the river that whole length?” board member Carolyn Sutton wanted to know. Gina Snyder, former executive director (2001-2017) urged Grasso Holdings to be very mindful to build so that the parked cars are not visible from the street. And to work on treatments and plantings for the wall, to help break it up and make it look as green and attractive as possible.
As for a timetable, they’re hoping to break ground soon after their Civic Design Review meeting. Then their General Contractor will work out logistics for drop-off of materials, crew parking, etc. and run that by the community. Construction is expected to take about two years.
LOCAL RCO FEEDBACK:
The next night at East Falls Forward’s general meeting, members agreed that the Grasso project’s big brown metal wall along Kelly Drive was unfortunate. “We’re in a park, it should be green,” Carolyn Sutton said to a room of nodding heads, Overall, however, everyone seemed excited about the new momentum for sorely-needed development at the heart of our business corridor.
RAH Civic Association’s Rose Cooper expressed amazement – and concern – about so much new construction coming to the area. Not just East Falls but our whole corner of NW Philly, especially her neighborhood of Allegheny West, where developers have pretty much snapped up all the saleable land and have begun methodically rebuilding the neighborhood.
On North 34th Street, across from Laurel Hill Cemetery, a massive, multi-phase commercial/residential project will be creating a new street for 100 – 200 units at completion. On the other side of the neighborhood, NewCourtland’s adding 120+ units of senior housing. Not to mention the 27 apartments approved for the Catfish lot, and plus possibly these 92 units Callahan Ward is proposing.
“It’s a lot of change, and so fast too, “ Rose told us. Already concerned that her community will be squeezed out by encroaching gentrification, she’s doubly worried that the entire area will pillaged by builders seeking a quick buck with no regard for our home. “We have to work together, “ she said, “Whatever it takes, we need to get along and not let these developers take advantage.”
GET INVOLVED! East Falls Forward is the neighborhood’s pro-urban RCO, dedicated to making East Falls a walkable, sustainable neighborhood with attractive places to eat, shop, and do business. FREE to join! Online voting for important issues like zoning, traffic, parking, new business, and more. Over 300 members, since 2015. East Falls’ only democratic voting body.
Members meet the 3rd Thursday of every month at BuLogics (3721 Midvale) for a community happy hour followed by information and informal discussion about topics affecting the neighborhood. (6:30pm – 8:30pm) NEXT MEETING THURS SEPTEMBER 20th.
JOIN EFF! It’s free and puts you on the mailing list for development info, future meetings & votes: EastFallsForward.org/join-east-falls-forward
JOIN RAH! Optional dues are $10/year and usually help fund a summer block party or field trip for neighborhood kids. Members generally meet every fourth Thursday 6:30 pm at St. James School (3217 W. Clearfield St. 19132 map) Email RAHCivicAssociation@yahoo.com for the next meeting’s date & agenda.