Eastwick asks School Reform Commission to stop sale of Pepper/ComTech

The Eastwick community remains deeply concerned about the Pepper/ComTech properties on 84th Street in southwest Philadelphia. These large, environmentally-sensitive public assets are a crucial part of the Eastwick planning process, and require close consideration.

The combined 37-acre property is, like much of Eastwick, situated on a low-lying FEMA-designated Special Flood Hazard area; it floods regularly and severely. The buildings are said to contain asbestos, mold, and other environmental contamination. The vacant grounds are targeted by massive short-dumping, which adds to environmental burdens. Any developer of the site must have the capacity and resources to develop the property as a public benefit, not a threat to safety or well-being of the community.

Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition, with broad support from Eastwick community leaders, has sent an Open Letter to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC), asking them to stop the sale of Pepper and ComTech, and to engage in the Eastwick planning process, which has begun.

We urge all Eastwick residents and supporters to attend the School Reform Commission public meeting on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, at 4:30 pm. Location:  440 North Broad Street, Suite 101, Philadelphia. Join EFNC in asking the SRC to halt the sale of Pepper/ComTech, and engage in the Eastwick planning process. To speak at the meeting, you must call 215-400-4180, and pre-register by 4:00 pm, Monday November 14. (The meeting is free and open to the public; pre-registration required only for speaking.) One person per organization may speak, maximum 3-minutes per person.

Open Letter to Philadelphia School Reform Commission, sent November 9, 2016:
(text below, or download PDF of Letter)

To Chair Wilkerson and the members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission,

We are writing to you, as residents of Philadelphia’s Eastwick community, asking that you stop the sale of the Pepper Middle School (Pepper) and Communications Technology High School (ComTech) properties to engage the community, as well as the City of Philadelphia and its economic and community development agencies, regarding the future of these properties. In keeping with the requests of Mayor James Kenney and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, we believe that the best way to engage the community and the city would be through the careful consideration provided by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s Eastwick planning process, which is already underway.

We fully recognize and are extremely sensitive to the Philadelphia School District’s dire need for the revenue from the sale of the Pepper and ComTech properties. We also understand your mandate to “achieve the maximum market rate value in the sale . . . of any real property the District owns[.]” At the same time the SRC’s own policies are clear on the need to balance this mandate with the “need to maintain an appropriate level of community involvement and engagement throughout all disposition . . . processes” along with an explicit recognition that the City of Philadelphia and its various economic and community development agencies are “significant community partners with the School District in its real property disposition . . . activities.”

The value of a delay to your partners in the community and the City are very significant in many respects.

  • The thirty-seven acre Pepper property alone is a large and environmentally sensitive public asset. It should be important to all of us to ensure that whoever acquires the Pepper and ComTech sites has the capacity to develop and maintain the site so that it is not a threat and is, instead, a benefit for the public safety, health, and welfare of Eastwick.
  • Like much of Eastwick, the entirety of the Pepper parcel is within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Special Flood Hazard Area. In fact, the Pepper site and surrounding properties are at the lowest elevation in the neighborhood, perhaps, the city. Hurricane Floyd of 1999 inundated the property with eight feet of water. That eighty percent of the Pepper parcel is permeable has mitigated the risk to surrounding properties, but development will change that. Whoever acquires the Pepper site must have the capacity to address stormwater management issues and the threat of catastrophic flooding for the parcel and surrounding properties.
  • The Pepper property has also been identified as a likely brownfields. The school building is said to contain asbestos and there is serious concern about environmental contamination elsewhere on the property. Moreover, since Pepper’s closure, the property has attracted massive amounts of illegal dumping, which may have added to the environmental burdens of the property. A new owner must have the capacity and a plan to investigate and address any ongoing problems associated with Eastwick’s legacy of environmental contamination on this property.
  • Finally, a large portion of the Pepper parcel consists of a public recreation facility, including baseball fields and basketball and tennis courts. Even while Pepper has been shuttered these facilities have been heavily utilized by residents and have become an important community resource. It is important to the community that they have a voice in the future of this public resource.

Eastwick residents are excited by the opportunity to work with the SRC on community involvement and engagement on the future of the Pepper and ComTech properties. Since 2012, Eastwick residents have requested that the community be provided an opportunity to work with its public sector partners to plan for Eastwick’s future. In December of 2015, those requests finally became a reality when the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the Philadelphia International Airport, with the encouragement and approval of the Mayor, committed to convening and investing in an Eastwick planning process. This collective victory signals a huge shift following a sixty-year legacy of displacement, disinvestment, and environmental burdens. This process will prioritize community engagement and stakeholder consensus building, while bringing needed attention to existing and future environmental and economic conditions. That type of process is exactly what is needed for these parcels and is what the SRC’s policies contemplate.

Delaying your decision to allow for the full engagement of the community and the City would be fully consistent with your stated policies. Moreover, we think it is clear that this additional engagement will not adversely affect the School District’s ability to realize a full price for the property. We believe that participation in the Redevelopment Authority’s planning process will likely result in additional bidders for the property and that gaining increased community buy-in will help to facilitate future zoning and permitting. Competitive bidding along with a smoother regulatory approval process is likely to produce higher bids and thus a higher price to the School District.

We appreciate your sensitivity to the needs of the Eastwick community. We welcome the opportunity to discuss our concerns and next steps.

Sincerely,
Carolyn Y. Moseley – President, Eastwick Community Network
Pastor Darien Thomas – Walk in the Light Ministries
Earl Wilson – President, Eastwick Action Committee
Joanne Graham – Chair, Environmental Justice Committee, Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition Inc.
Leo Brundage – Citizens for the Cleanup of Lower Darby Creek
Leonard Stewart – Board Member, Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition Inc.
Marion A. Sanders – Eastwick United
Nina Bryant – Chair, Education Committee, Eastwick Community Network
Norma Santos – Eastwick United
Pastor Frank I. Smart, II – St. Paul A.M.E. Church
Ramona Rousseau-Reid – Vice President, Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition Inc.
Terry A. Williams – President, Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition Inc.
Tyrone Beverly – President, Eastwick United

CC: Mayor James Kenney
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson
Senator Robert Casey
Congressman Robert Brady
State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams
State Senator Lawrence M. Farnese Jr.
State Representative Maria Donatucci
Deputy Mayor James Engler
Anne Fadullon, Director, Office of Planning and Development
Gregory Heller, Executive Director, Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority
Martine DeCamp, Philadelphia City Planning Commission
Christine Knapp, Director, Office of Sustainability
Claire Landau, Chief of Staff, School Reform Commission
Fran Burns, Chief Operating Officer, Philadelphia School District

Public Letter to Eastwick, Planning Process begins

EFNCPublicMtg-2016-0721-byDebbieBeer 01A edit

Eastwick public meeting, July 21, 2016 – photo by Debbie Beer

Dear Eastwick Residents and Stakeholders,

At recent Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition public meetings, we, as well as representatives of various city agencies, announced to the community that an Eastwick Planning Process is about to begin. The Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to facilitate that process was just released and is now available online. We are obviously thrilled to know that the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and Philadelphia City Planning Commission are committed to helping us develop a plan for Eastwick. We hope you are too. It is only with robust community engagement that we all can create the plan we need for Eastwick.

That discussion included a hope to include the 47-acre Pepper Middle School and ComTech sites as part of that process. The RFP includes an intent to do so.

At our July 21st public meeting, Eastwick residents asked questions about Pepper and Comtech, particularly around the purpose and outcome of the public meeting EFNC held on September 17, 2015, and a straw vote taken at that meeting.

We explained in our September 23, 2015, letter following up on the meeting:
[T]he purpose of the meeting was to initiate a community based, community driven forum specifically designed to engage Eastwick residents in a much-needed public conversation about the absolute best development possibilities for the Pepper-ComTech sites. One of our first tasks when planning this meeting was to facilitate the means by which residents could express their concerns and interests regarding the Pepper-ComTech sites. One of the most telling and efficient ways of doing this was to institute a non-binding straw vote process, to serve as general public commentary on the proposals presented by the three invited presenters: First Baptist Church of Paschall, Envista Farms Urban Farming, and The Henderson Group.

This letter went out to each of the prospective developers and Councilman Johnson’s office, but we neglected to make it electronically available to the wider community. That was our oversight and, thus, we are doing so now. (Click here to download PDF of September 23, 2015 Letter))

As the letter states, the meeting was meant to provide a forum for discussion. In our letter, we did report back the results of the non-binding straw vote—sharing our analysis of votes within the 19153 zip code, while noting that a full one third of meeting participants were from outside the neighborhood of the Pepper-ComTech sites. We reiterated that the vote was meant to give us a preliminary indication of the community’s thinking and find out whether the community needed additional information. It was never intended to be either binding or a definitive indication of community preference. This was, and continues to be, true for a number of reasons.

First, this was the initial conversation about a large and environmentally sensitive public asset, a large portion of which continues to be in use by residents. It was our first opportunity to engage with potential developers and, while the developers’ presentations were informative, they all lacked information that would be critical to any decision by the community. We were aware that the meeting would be the first of many conversations about that site.

Second, residents themselves made it clear that they would need more information about proposals for that site. None of the proposals were comprehensive—almost half the residents from 19153 who did attend did not vote because they needed more information. And, of the people who voted, half said they needed more information. Following the meeting, we reached out to all of the potential developers, asking for more information, including basic financial information, environmental impacts, community benefits, and project design and did not receive any additional information.

The third item we did not note in our letter, but probably should have: It is our understanding that the School Reform Commission has the final say on the disposition of this property. It is our hope that the SRC will give weight to the interests of the community. And we are working hard to ensure that all interested parties, including residents, potential developers and other stakeholders, have the most informed points of view and opportunity for dialogue to enable meaningful, informed community input.

Finally, it is important to note that Eastwick has seen big changes since September of last year. Since then Eastwick residents secured a formal place at the table as active participants in planning for the neighborhood’s future: On December 23, 2015, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority settled with New Eastwick Corporation (Korman) and took back control over one hundred acres of land in Eastwick. In doing so, PRA committed to funding a planning process for the undeveloped parcels in Eastwick.

The planning process is intended to begin in the fall of 2016. Our city agencies and elected officials have recognized the need to approach carefully development of large sites in Eastwick, giving great weight to community input and needs, but also building in analysis of economic and environmental conditions in the neighborhood. As per PRA, community engagement will be a priority in the process and, as we said at the beginning of this letter, it continues to be our hope and understanding that the large Pepper-ComTech sites will be incorporated into that process. Eastwick has not had a new plan since the first urban renewal plan of 1957, so this is an important opportunity for the community.

We hope this letter together with our letter from last fall, explains our own process and alleviates any confusion anyone might have. Moreover, by this letter, we emphatically encourage all residents and stakeholders—including any potential developers—to be active participants in the planning process.

Sincerely,
Terry Williams
President, Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition

Eliminating ‘Blight’ in Modern Urban Planning

Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition is grateful for the opportunity to post, “Eliminating Blight,” a guest editorial in the August 2016 issue of Grid magazine.

We believe the term “blight” has no place in modern urban planning, and we call for a public discussion to understand the impacts of blight designation, and for a clear and transparent process to remove such designation.  Below is our editorial:

Print

Illustration by Nicholas Massarrelli

ELIMINATING BLIGHT, by Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition
Grid magazine, August 4, 2016

A blighted neighborhood… what does that mean? For many, the word conjures images of cracked sidewalks, strewn trash, rusty cars and homes in need of a paint job. But are any Philadelphia neighborhoods free of such features?

According to Pennsylvania Urban Redevelopment Law, seven criteria are used to determine whether blight exists in an area, and the above description would meet many of them. But only one of those criteria needs to be met to establish a property or an area as blighted—a first step in the process by which city officials may use eminent domain to seize land from homeowners.

Although the term seems neutral, the history of blight is also deeply rooted in racism. For decades, local governments have used the term to condemn areas predominated by racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants.

For Eastwick, a primarily African-American and immigrant neighborhood in Southwest Philadelphia, this has meant trouble. The term was originally applied to Eastwick in the 1950s by people who didn’t live here, by officials who set out to create a new “city within a city,” without respect for existing community cohesion. In 2006, Eastwick was recertified as “blighted,” a designation that residents feel strongly continues to hold the Eastwick community back. Now, in 2016, it’s time to eliminate “blight”—a word that has become synonymous with racism and injustice—from the vocabulary of city planning officials.

To understand Eastwick’s future, we must acknowledge its past. Eastwick was officially designated as blighted in December 1950 by the city of Philadelphia planning and redevelopment agencies. This action facilitated the largest urban redevelopment project in history, in which more than 2,100 acres of land were condemned and seized. Over the next half-century, the Korman Corp. held the rights to redevelop and renew Eastwick. Old brick homes were razed and replaced by modern buildings, streets were planned and paved for new cul-de-sacs, and the Penrose Plaza was conceived and constructed.

In the name of urban renewal, more than 8,600 people—bewildered, frustrated and angry—were displaced. Many of them protested, unsuccessfully, the forced sale of their homes. Families, churches and local businesses were forced to leave; most never returned. A peaceful, racially integrated community known as the Meadows was effectively destroyed.

Despite the city-led redevelopment, Eastwick’s blight certification was renewed in March 2006 under the Street administration. The recertification cites evidence of three of the seven criteria used to define blight: 1) unsafe, unsanitary, inadequate, or overcrowded conditions; 2) faulty street and lot layout; and 3) “economically or socially undesirable” land use.

However, the report fails to mention that the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, not individual Eastwick residents, held title to the 162 acres of “vacant land” relied upon to recertify Eastwick as blighted; that the illegal dumping was occurring on that same publicly owned land; or that there was no intent to relocate the industrial activity that aggravated blight conditions in this environmentally vulnerable area.

In short, Eastwick residents—the individuals most impacted by the blight designation—played no role in creating so-called blighted conditions.

Today, this blight status—and the police power it represents—remains. It’s a significant concern for Eastwick residents, many of whom have lived here for decades. Attracted to this peaceful corner of Philadelphia, cradled by the trails along Cobbs Creek and the trees of John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Eastwick’s residents—before and since the ill-fated urban redevelopment project—do not see their community as blighted. But they have no power to change these conditions going forward, even though they have committed to staying in the neighborhood and organizing to protect their community.

Community activists—dedicated residents such as Earl Wilson, Leonard Stewart, Ramona Rousseau-Reid, Joanne Graham and Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition (EFNC) President Terry Williams—have come together with renewed energy, working hard to make Eastwick whole, despite deep-seated distrust of a city that disenfranchised and disrespected their elders years ago.

They are proud of the storied history of Eastwick, and they are looking forward to the next chapters of change.

The EFNC is dedicated to engaging and empowering those residents, advocating for an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable future for the community. EFNC is working with elected officials and city agencies to ensure that future planning in Eastwick is conducted with residents, not for them. The recently approved Lower Southwest District Plan incorporated significant community input and is, thus, a step in the right direction.

The blight designation, however, remains in force in Eastwick.

EFNC believes that the term “blight” is an archaic tool that has no place in modern urban planning. We call for a public discussion in order for city officials to understand the long-term social and developmental impacts of the blight designation, and for a clear and transparent pathway for removing a designation that is impeding the forward progress of Eastwick.

The negative social and psychological impacts of the label are real. As a blight designation initiated a painful chapter of Eastwick’s history, removing the designation would be an auspicious start for the next one.

Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition in Southwest Philadelphia brings together community stakeholders in planning and advocating for an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable future for Eastwick. For information or to get involved, email eastwickfnc@gmail.com or visit eastwickfriends.wordpress.com.

Meet new Airport CEO on August 2, 2016

Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition invites all to come out and meet new Philadelphia Airport CEO Chellie Cameron and her executive staff on Tuesday, August 2, 2016, 6:00-8:00 PM, at Eastwick Wellness Center.

Bring a neighbor and attend to learn more about Airport activities, changes and planning in Eastwick. Ms. Cameron and her staff will make a presentation and answer questions.

Meeting begins promptly at 6:00 pm. Please arrive a few minutes early to sign-in at the front desk of the Wellness Center, as well as the meeting.

Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition is a proud recipient of the Bread and Roses Community Empowerment Award. Thanks for getting involved, engaged, and informed about important issues that impact our community! Please contact us at EastwickFNC@gmail.com if any questions, comments or concerns.

EFNC public mtg flier 2016-0802

%d bloggers like this: