Northeast Times

New zoning could bring industry to Bridesburg’s backyard

A large, formerly in­dus­tri­al field in Brides­burg was once an in­dus­tri­al space, al­most be­came a res­id­en­tial space, and is now a po­ten­tial in­dus­tri­al space yet again. With all the back-and-forth, neigh­bors won­der what might even­tu­ally find a home in Brides­burg, and if more in­dustry is really what the neigh­bor­hood needs.

For 15 years, Daniel Adair has had a 70-acre back yard.

That’s how long Adair has lived on Garden Street in Brides­burg, a quiet block north of the Betsy Ross Bridge.

He and his neigh­bors have a clear view of a fenced, un­used field that was formerly the site of the Phil­adelphia Coke Co. The land stretches from the 4500 block of Rich­mond Street to the Delaware River, between Bucki­us and Or­tho­dox streets.

All this time, he said he’s wondered why such a valu­able nat­ur­al re­source would be locked up be­hind a fence, and when it would be giv­en back to the neigh­bor­hood.

“You can­not get to the river from Brides­burg without walk­ing through private or civic or state prop­erty,” Adair told Star. “But we got this big open stretch of land that we could open up, to make it to the river. People could sit down, and look at the river, and look at the boats, and look at things go­ing along the trail.”

But now, Adair’s dreams of pub­lic use for the land may be stopped for good.

In Decem­ber, City Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on (D-6th dist.) in­tro­duced zon­ing bill 121035 to rezone the area as I-3, or “heavy in­dus­tri­al.” The land is cur­rently zoned for res­id­en­tial mixed use. The long­time in­dus­tri­al site was rezoned to res­id­en­tial in 2005 by a City Coun­cil vote, at the re­quest of the Westrum Corp. and Hov­n­ani­an Homes, ac­cord­ing to City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion plan­ner Paula Brumbelow.

The CPC and Hen­on have since amended the rezon­ing pro­pos­al to a mix of “heavy in­dus­tri­al” by the Delaware River, “me­di­um” for most of the land, and mixed in­dus­tri­al/com­mer­cial space between Le­fevre and Bucki­us streets, ad­ja­cent to where Adair lives.

Ac­cord­ing to the Phil­adelphia Zon­ing Code, “heavy in­dus­tri­al” (I-3) zon­ing is for “in­tens­ive, high-im­pact uses, in­clud­ing ex­tract­ive in­dus­tries, pet­ro­leum pro­cessing, stor­age, ter­min­als, tanks, pipes;”  me­di­um in­dus­tri­al” (I-2) is for “man­u­fac­tur­ing, dis­tri­bu­tion, pro­cessing, in­dus­tri­al parks;” and in­dus­tri­al com­mer­cial mixed used (ICMX) is “is in­ten­ded to serve as a buf­fer between In­dus­tri­al dis­tricts and Com­mer­cial and Res­id­en­tial Dis­tricts.”

It is un­clear what kind of de­vel­op­ments, if any, will go up on this site.

“There’s a good op­por­tun­ity here where you can cre­ate jobs,” Hen­on said of the land. “It’s been blighted for 30 years. We can put it to great use.”

While there are not yet any in­ter­ested parties, ac­cord­ing to Hen­on, rezon­ing to in­dus­tri­al could open the door to a vari­ety of busi­nesses, pos­sibly block­ing Adair and his neigh­bors from the Delaware River.

“They’re will­ing to make it in­dus­tri­al again to hurt this area that got rid of all the in­dus­tri­al,” Adair said. “I feel bad for the older people that lived in the area all their life. They like do­ing away with the stigma Brides­burg has of be­ing the tox­ic dump­ing site of Phil­adelphia.”

But Hen­on said any in­dus­tri­al uses will be con­sist­ent with the neigh­bor­hood and sub­ject to loc­al ap­prov­al.

“It’s not the man­u­fac­tur­ing use that our grand­par­ents knew; it’s not smokestacks. It’s clean man­u­fac­tur­ing,” he said.

Coun­cil­man Hen­on held a neigh­bor­hood meet­ing last Wed­nes­day at the Amer­ic­an Le­gion Hall at Sal­mon and Or­tho­dox streets about the rezon­ing pro­pos­al. He in­vited neigh­bors to join a work­ing group that will de­vel­op a plan of how to best move for­ward with de­vel­op­ing this land. The first meet­ing is sched­uled for Wed­nes­day, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m.

But to neigh­bors like Adair, the pro­spect of in­dus­tri­al use for the area is par­tic­u­larly bit­ter be­cause just a few years ago, Westrum De­vel­op­ment Corp. had pro­posed build­ing more than 900 homes in the area, and suc­cess­fully lob­bied the City Coun­cil to rezone the area to res­id­en­tial for the pro­ject. That plan was can­celed in 2008 due to the hous­ing mar­ket col­lapse, ac­cord­ing to Westrum as­sist­ant vice pres­id­ent of de­vel­op­ment Larry McK­night.

“The pro­ject is no longer vi­able,” McK­night told Star. “The price to do en­vir­on­ment­al cleanup and in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments were great­er than what we can ac­tu­ally sell the houses for.”

That would have in­cluded cap­ping the site to elim­in­ate hu­man con­tact with the ex­ist­ing soil, build­ing roads and in­stalling two feet of clean fill over the soil to provide safe green space, he said.

“Per­son­ally, I’d rather it stay res­id­en­tial,” Brides­burg Busi­ness As­so­ci­ation pres­id­ent Joseph Slabink­si said of this area. “But real­ist­ic­ally, the prop­erty’s nev­er go­ing to sell un­til the eco­nomy turns around and homes are be­ing sought after.”

Hen­on also said that res­id­en­tial use is not real­ist­ic.

“There’s no res­id­en­tial mar­ket here. Not in five years. Maybe 10 years — but we’ve already waited 30 years,” he said.

A 2012 re­port by the U.S. En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency in­dic­ated that the Phil­adelphia Coke Co., which was in op­er­a­tion from 1927 to 1982, left be­hind by-products of their cok­ing op­er­a­tion. Coke is a char­coal made from blen­ded coal, which is used as fuel to smelt iron ore in the re­fin­ing pro­cess that cre­ates in­dus­tri­al-use metals, such as steel. The U.S. EPA and the Pennsylvania De­part­ment of En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion des­ig­nated this area a “brown­field,” which is the des­ig­na­tion for a post-in­dus­tri­al site with con­tam­in­ated soil.

“The de­veloper, who­ever buys that, is go­ing to have ad­dress those is­sues,” Brumbelow said.

The Phil­adelphia In­dus­tri­al De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion owns 9.4 acres of the site, which may be kept as pub­lic land in the fu­ture for the Delaware Gre­en­way trail along Delaware Av­en­ue no mat­ter who moves in, Brumbelow said.

An em­ploy­ee at Pennsylvania En­vir­on­ment­al Coun­cil con­firmed that it re­ceived about $80,000 in fund­ing to help re­move in­vas­ive plants and re­plant nat­ive spe­cies by the river for the Westrum pro­ject. That fund­ing may still be used at this site.

But even with those as­sur­ances and the eco­nom­ic be­ne­fits of bring­ing busi­nesses to the area, neigh­bors are still wor­ried about the con­sequences of more in­dustry in the area.

“Who needs all these ex­tra dirt and trucks and pol­lu­tion?” Slab­in­ski asked. “The way we’re boxed in with the streets, we’re con­cerned if someone’s go­ing to open up a busi­ness with 200 trucks com­ing in a day.”

Hen­on said that plans are in mo­tion to ex­pand Delaware Av­en­ue to al­le­vi­ate traffic.

“We need to be open to busi­ness,” he said. “Some­body needs to step up and take con­trol here. I’m not go­ing to wait.”

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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