Henon holds outreach meeting for Bridesburg’s controversial Coke lot

A view of the now-va­cant former Phil­adelphia Coke Co. lot, along he 4500 block of Rich­mond St.

The first meet­ing of a cit­izens’ “work­ing group” to de­vel­op a plan for the former fact­ory site was called by some at­tendees “a mad house” that only con­fused mat­ters.

City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on (D-6th dist.) held the first meet­ing of a work­ing group to de­vel­op a plan for the former Phil­adelphia Coke Com­pany fact­ory site last Wed­nes­day even­ing.

The 70-acre site in Brides­burg has been va­cant since the 1980s.

The land stretches from the 4500 block of Rich­mond Street to the Delaware River, between Bucki­us and Or­tho­dox streets.

Coun­cil­man Hen­on re­cently in­tro­duced a City Coun­cil bill to re­turn the site to mixed in­dus­tri­al zon­ing for a new in­dus­tri­al or busi­ness ten­ant, which has dis­pleased neigh­bors who are hope­ful for a green­er use for the empty wa­ter­front land.

Hen­on ad­vert­ised the work­ing group meet­ing as a chance to give neigh­bors a voice in the pro­cess.

City of­fi­cials from the City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, the Parks De­part­ment and the Delaware River City Cor­por­a­tion (DRCC) were in at­tend­ance as re­sources to an­swer neigh­bors’ ques­tions.

But some neigh­bors said they did not feel like they were heard at the meet­ing.

“It was an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity … a dys­func­tion­al mess,” said Daniel Adair, a res­id­ent of Garden Street, which is next to the former Coke prop­erty.

Adair com­plained that the of­fi­cials and rep­res­ent­at­ives didn’t take ques­tions, and no clear agenda was presen­ted for the meet­ing, which “brought more con­fu­sion to the situ­ation.”

On the Brides­burg Face­book page, some mem­bers de­scribed the meet­ing as a “mad house.”

Oth­ers said it was a good for­um to hash out ideas and get people talk­ing.

Adair and oth­er people in at­tend­ance said that neigh­bors were di­vided up in­to groups, giv­en pieces of pa­per with a map of the site on it and in­vited to write or draw their ideas of how to best util­ize the land.

DRCC ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or Thomas Branigan, who in part su­per­vises the Gre­en­way Trail Pro­ject along the Delaware river­front, said that the only ques­tions neigh­bors asked him were about when Delaware Av­en­ue will be ex­ten­ded through the Coke prop­erty. That is up to the city, he said.

“When the city takes the road to the north end of the prop­erty, to Bucki­us Street, the Gre­en­way trail would be part of that pro­ject,” Branigan said.

Coun­cil­man Hen­on’s of­fice did not re­spond to calls for com­ment about the meet­ing.

Hen­on in­tro­duced Zon­ing Bill 121035 to the City Coun­cil in Decem­ber, which would rezone the 70-acre va­cant Coke prop­erty, which stretches from Rich­mond and Garden streets, between Bucki­us and Or­tho­dox streets, to the Delaware River, for in­dus­tri­al use.

Brides­burg res­id­ents began to bristle at the plan quickly. On the “Brides­burg” Face­book page, nu­mer­ous neigh­bors said that they saw green or park space as a more valu­able use for the prop­erty.

However, the field is a Pennsylvania De­part­ment of En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion-des­ig­nated post-in­dus­tri­al “brown­field.” The soil is still con­tam­in­ated with pol­lut­ants from the former iron-ore mix­ing Coke fact­ory that make it cur­rently un­suit­able for res­id­en­tial use.

Adair said that Hen­on’s staff has told him that Bill 121035 is on hold in City Coun­cil while they ad­dress the com­munity’s op­pos­i­tion to the plan.

In 2007, Westrum De­vel­op­ment Corp. had pro­posed build­ing more than 900 homes in the area, and suc­cess­fully lob­bied the City Coun­cil to rezone the long­time in­dus­tri­al site for res­id­en­tial use. That plan was can­celed in 2008 due to the hous­ing mar­ket col­lapse, Westrum of­fi­cials said.

That pro­ject would have in­volved “cap­ping the soil” to pre­vent any hu­man con­tact with con­tam­in­ated dirt.

Adair, who has pho­to­graphed the Coke prop­erty and be­lieves it should be made avail­able to res­id­ents as wa­ter­front and green space, shared with Star let­ters he sent to Coun­cil­man Hen­on in­quir­ing if the Coke prop­erty was tar­geted for rezon­ing as a con­veni­ent loc­a­tion for Kuu­sakoski Re­cyc­ling, on Or­tho­dox Street.

Coun­cil­man Hen­on’s of­fice has not yet re­spon­ded to the sug­ges­tion offered in Adair’s let­ters.

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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