Thursday, October 04, 2012

Council Reconsidering The 50 Foot Waterfront Setback

No public access or trail at Waterfront Square on the Delaware
As first reported by PennFuture on Tuesday, the important 50-foot buffer rule that Council introduced in early September is in trouble.

According to PlanPhilly, several members of City Council are considering amendments to the ordinance requiring a 50 foot buffer between waterways and new development. This buffer allows for the possibility of public access to waterways and provides environmental protection from the impact of development. The Development Workshop, a coalition of lawyers and developers and landowners, has been an opponent of the zoning changes and especially the 50 foot buffer plan.

In an earlier PlanPhilly article, Development Workshop Executive Director Craig Schelter describes the organization's reason for opposing the buffer:

“Our concern is that this is more a way of ultimately trying to ensure that you get a public trail along the river without the City paying to acquire the land."
In contrast to Philadelphia, Hoboken has a 100 ft. buffer rule,
allowing for a public trail along the Hudson River. 

Talk about not absorbing a concept. Schelter is suggesting that efforts to open Philadelphia's waterfront to the public is somehow a land grab. More from that article:

Schelter said that enacting a 50-foot buffer on privately owned portions of the Delaware River, for example, is an overreach by the Planning Commission and Water Department. He said he sees the benefit of setbacks on the smaller streams and waterways throughout the City, but that he’s “still not convinced” the buffer is needed on the rivers. And he said he questions the Commission’s motivation in trying to implement it.

In Wednesday's Inquirer article, however, Councilman Green cited different concerns with the plan, such as whether the buffer applied to smaller creeks or buried streams. Which is an interesting thing to oppose, considering Philadelphia's problem with sinking homes built over submerged stream beds.

The 50 foot buffer legislation is awaiting a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing in front of the Rules Committee. Any compromise to it will make it more difficult to complete the missing links in the city's trail network. Furthermore it will also impair the City's ability to improve water quality, reduce runoff and to create an attractive waterfront that will encourage more development.
This vision of the Wissahickon Gateway trail behind the Main St. properties...

is hard to make real when properties like Mr. Storage are allowed to
build up to the riverbank and provide no buffer.


andrewlevitt said...

I'd love to see some restaurants, bars, houses, and other amenities along the river, in addition to parks. If ALL we get are parks, then I don't see a lot of people going there, and it will be creepy at night. And won't those restaurants etc. need a sidewalk? Why not make a nice sidewalk and call it a trail? I don't think the 50-foot setback makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Does ecological sustainability and the health of the people in this city make sense? Because that's what you are threatening when you don't consider the consequences on of continuously impeding on, disrupting, and developing over the natural habitat.

Bike Coalition said...

The 50 foot buffer serves a dual purpose - to allow public access to the waterfront and provide opportunities to restore the natural habitat.

As you can see in the Hoboken photo - good design could easily accommodate other uses such as cafes and retail fronting a waterfront promenade.