Manifest Density: Zoning for Our Riverfront


So… are we still getting that big apartment building where the Japanese restaurant used to be? And some kind of thru-street between Kelly and Ridge? Answers, photos & links in our quick zoning recap. 

Funny how loving architecture doesn’t necessarily make you good at assessing design plans. I’m talking personally: when Gary Jonas of HOW Properties put up the image of his new apartment building for Kelly Drive, I thought it looked fine. Not the most beautiful structure, sure, but it seemed kinda snazzy with the red brick, the geometry.

But what do I know? Neighborhood feedback has been way lousy.

EastFallsLocal stilts and raised foundation

EFDC’s Gina Snyder told us she was “disappointed” with the renderings. And at Thursday night’s EFF mixer/meeting, chair Felicite Moorman frowned, pointing out the hulking gray wall facing Kelly Drive, and declared, “Something absolutely has to be done about this awful thing.”

“Looks like a motel,” one gentleman told Gary to his face at Wednesday night’s zoning meeting, d’oh, while many audience members nodded.

And Gary agreed!  “You’re right, you’re right, we need to work on this, ” he admitted, and apologized for the “incomplete” renderings — just a “basic idea” really, and now he’s taking community input to help refine the design. Especially the stilts, wall, and underground parking garage required for flood zone protection (but even the red brick facing is up for debate).

EastFallsLocal finished structure collage txt

The finished structure will be about three stories taller than the Japanese Restaurant building that’s on the site now (which will be demolished). “That’s going to be huge,” a near neighbor commented, but the land is zoned for even taller.

HOW Properties does not need to seek community approval to build apartments here — he’s requesting a variance to use a little piece of Fairmount Park property as a parking lot. Though technically, it’s EFDC who’s requesting the variance.

EastFallsLocal parking lot text

EFDC wants Gary to build the lot because the organization has had its eye on this stretch of land for awhile, a key part of the Lower Northwest Plan for our riverfront district. A thru-street here could provide better traffic circulation, and encourage drivers to explore East Falls — EFDC would like to investigate this.

EastFallsLocal gina collage thru street

While EFDC gathers data/traffic studies/community input/etc., HOW Properties will pave the lot, create needed walkways and curb cuts, plus landscape & maintain the area as a free parking lot. And assume all costs. And responsibilities. Essentially, they’ll prepare the area for a thru-street if & when the city is ready to build it. Until then, EFDC will hold the lease.

If/when the thru-street is built, there should still be room for some parking around it  — really can’t explain this better than Gina herself, for more info about the lease and EFDC’s plans for the area, read her latest post on the thru-street and river landing project (coming soon, fingers crossed).

Anyhoo, although neighbors haven’t been thrilled with the aesthetics of Gary’s apartment design, most folks at both meetings seemed cool with the parking lot/thru-street idea. Some tension bubbled up Wednesday night, however, when EFL reader favorite Meg Greenfield suggested that instead of all the parking, HOW could cut out a few spaces and create something nice for pedestrians. 

EastFallsLocal thru street graphic

Wait, what? Did an EFCC member actually appeal for LESS parking in East Falls??!!

Gina was like, “No one is going to hang out in a pocket garden in a parking lot here — especially not with the whole river right there.” (Well duh, really.) She explained that the extra riverfront parking is needed for visitors and the commercial spaces Gary intends to build, plus Grasso’s retail & offices, and for the businesses that will spring up as new demos come to the area.

Meg later asked Gary to consider providing shuttle service from Ridge Ave to the East Falls train station. Although Gary seemed amenable to the idea (which seemed great to me at first, too), Gina was frank in her opposition: “I definitely do not support a train station shuttle,” she told the room.

She explained, shuttle service is not needed for such a short distance, and besides:  we want people walking by our businesses. We want them buying coffee & stopping for breakfast. We want eyes on the street and shoppers at the ready. A shuttle contributes nothing towards the safe, lively pedestrian experience East Falls seeks to grow here.

EastFallsLocal kelly drive collage

Which sounds about right to me, but what do I know? I liked Gary’s renderings, after all. But I guess in comparison to what’s there now, pretty much anything seems an improvement to me. Which sounds kinda desperate, come to think…

For decades, East Falls’ riverfront “district” was a depressing stretch of dormant lots and storefronts for lease. Now we’ve got 200 rental units coming to Ridge Flats, another 46 units for Falls Bridge Lofts — factor in Gary’s estimated 130 – 140 apartments, plus 96 units for Pennrose, that’s almost 500 total new residences on the river within the next few years!  (Not to mention a bunch of commercial & office space.)

EastFallsLocal text pop up map collage almost 500 new residences in development color

At what point do we start getting choosy about how our neighborhood changes? While I don’t think Gary’s trying to stick us with a big, ugly building and parking lot, I dunno. Shit happens. Certainly a community too eager to develop its assets could quite easily squander them by growing too fast and impulsively.

Gary’s hopefully coming back to the community with a more thoughtful, pleasing design soon. Meanwhile, enjoy these last months of empty waterfront here in East Falls — won’t be long before a whole new crop of Fallsers will be calling this abandoned stretch of Ridge home.

VIEW FULL RENDERINGS HERE (includes floorplans, landscaping, elevation, and possible commercial enterprise).


PS. Come to meetings, they’re fun! (See if you can guess which meeting’s which….)

EastFallsForward zoning COLLAGE

EastFallsForward zoning audience meg resize

EastFallsForward zoning audience resize

EastFallsForward zoning aug 18

EastFallsForward zoning aug 18 resize

EastFallsLocal lorena salfidrescue org

Lastly — not zoning but still important: Lorena Wilson of Salfid Rescue is a neighbor working hard to make a difference. Every day, she and her team struggle to save adoptable dogs from their date with the needle at ACCT and other local kill shelters with limited space. If you can possibly spare even a few days, you could be a hero. Salfid pays all expenses, details in our recent post. Thanks!



  1. I couldn’t read past ” a variance to use a little piece of Fairmount Park property as a parking lot”. If that is Fairmount Park property it is not up to any organization in East Falls, it is up to Fairmount Park! I think is is ludicrous to plan for flooding while paving over flood control land. I wasn’t at the meeting and I just couldn’t finish the article with How’s plans because I am stuck on flood retaining walls and paved parking. Hellooooo, not a good combination.

    • Hi Sue!

      Thanks for chiming in — looks like you jumped the gun though: the “park land” in question is an already-paved lot. We added a new photo to make this completely obvious, in case others like you see “Fairmount” and react without reading the details. Re Fairmount Park’s input — their reps have already met with EFDC and How and they OK’d the plan for EFDC to hold the lease on a year-to-year basis. PS it’s not a flood retaining wall — How Properties is raising the structure in order to keep it out of the 500 year flood plain. BTW, they’re only required to design for a 100 year flood plain, but they’re playing it safe, which seems pretty smart. Plenty more info in the post if you read it all the way through. 🙂

  2. I was at this meeting and I am not thrilled about a residential space going up on Ridge/Kelly. The traffic situation there is atrocious and I don’t see how putting up a residential hive will help. It would be much more beneficial to the community if it was a commercial space with a focus on making East Falls a more pedestrian friendly community with a myriad of shops and restaurants. While there are some wonderful businesses and restaurants in the neighborhood, there aren’t that many. On top of it all, this proposed hive is aesthetically offensive and using the bank building across the street as design template does not ingrain much hope on that front.

    I also find it a little ludicrous that anyone will use the riverfront space in East Falls in a fun, recreational way, aside from maybe using it as a jogging/biking trail to get yourself to somewhere else, as Kelly Drive is essentially a freeway. It isn’t a pleasant place to be with cars tearing down the street at 50 mph+ with no regard for posted speed limits. I say better a pop-up beer garden in a safe and quiet parking lot than on a freeway.

    So instead of the “depressing stretch of dormant lots and storefronts for lease” we’re getting a depressing, architecturally offensive residential hive. Manifest destiny indeed…

    • Hello Jo, and thank you for your comment — although I’m not sure what to do with it.

      If you truly feel it’s “a little ludicrous” to think East Falls will ever enjoy our river for fun & recreation, then you are grossly out of step with the many locals who participated in the numerous planning meetings behind our part of the Lower Northwest Plan for Philadelphia (linked above). The whole idea for our area is to better connect us with the Schuylkill and Wissahickon, which already attract thousands of visitors every season.

      I guess some people look at our traffic on Kelly Drive and think to themselves, “I can cross at this light & enjoy beautiful scenery on the river.”

      But then others like you see this same intersection like an impassible freeway, and yearn for the quiet safety of a parking lot beer garden between apartment buildings.

      And I honestly don’t understand that one bit. I’m sorry — I’m trying, but there’s a river RIGHT HERE! With grass and a breeze and people-watching out the wazoo. Why would you rather sit in a concrete compound? Are you THAT bad at crossing streets? There’s a light and a cross walk and everything, though… I am confused.

      I am also confused about how you seem to think East Falls can simply zone for commercial and then BOOM! We’ll have shops & restaurants. If this were the case, any disadvantaged neighborhood would just zone for luxury stores and then wait for Big Business to move in.

      But the only way to attract new business is to demonstrate a sustainable market for them to succeed. We need more people here, Jo! All this residential growth on our river will create a need for the services and retail we all would like to see for East Falls. Without customers, no business is going to invest here — which is why our “downtown” looks so depressing.

      Finally, as I stated right off the bat in this piece, Gary’s “hive” is getting a significant re-design — you are not alone to find it less-than-acceptable for our riverfront. No need to freak out just yet, at least wait till you see the new plans.

      Thank you again for your comment, for attending meetings, and for sharing your thoughts & opinions here. (PS I am aiming for playful not snarky in this response, no offense intended).

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