Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition (EFNC) members came together this rainy afternoon two days before Christmas, to witness history first-hand. Crowded into an unassuming room, at a specially-called board meeting of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA), we cheered when they voted unanimously to officially end the largest urban renewal agreement in history!
Though the meeting lasted less than 30 minutes, the Eastwick community has endured environmental justice challenges for decades, and has been actively advocating for an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable future since 2012, when residents and stakeholders joined forces to oppose a 722-apartment development proposal, and form EFNC.
Eastwick has much to celebrate this season, enjoying a moment that seemed nearly unimaginable 4 years ago, and eagerly anticipating the next chapter in the Eastwick story. The PRA has committed to community planning, and every voice is needed in this important process!
EFNC is grateful for the leadership and support of many allies, including Brian Abernathy-executive director of PRA, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson-2nd district, and Amy Laura Cahn-staff attorney at PILCOP, whose expertise, determination, and legal counsel have guided us since our earliest days.
Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition members with Brian Abernathy, executive director of Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (left), Amy Laura Cahn, staff attorney at Public Interest Law Center (fourth from left), and Steve Cobb, legal counsel for Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (right).
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) issued the following press release about this historic occasion:
December 23, 2015 – Philadelphia, Pa. – The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) and developer Korman Residential have reached an historic agreement, which terminates the 50-year old Eastwick Redevelopment Agreement and returns control of approximately 135 acres of land adjacent to the Heinz National Wildlife Refuge back to PRA. The transfer to PRA comes with a four-year purchase option to the City of Philadelphia, subject to the results of a planning process, to be led by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.
This deal comes after almost four years of advocacy by the Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition (EFNC) and the broader Eastwick community to stave off unwanted and ecologically unsound development of this land. Under the Redevelopment Agreement, Korman Residential had held the development rights to the land for over fifty years.
“We are thrilled that this land is coming back under public control,” said Terry Williams, President of EFNC, who was born and raised and returned to live in Eastwick. “We are ready to work with the city to conduct the planning process promised to us last July to rejuvenate our community after decades of neglect and disinvestment. This is monumental to so many folks—folks who have passed on and folks who are still watching over this neighborhood.”
At a public meeting hosted by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson last July, PRA publicly pledged to lead a community-based planning process for the undeveloped land in Eastwick, if a deal with Korman could be secured. The last plan created for Eastwick was in 1957, a plan that led to the condemnation of over 2300 acres of land and the displacement of over 8000 people, in order to create the nation’s largest urban renewal project. PRA has acknowledged the negative impact of the top-down approach of years past and suggested future planning processes would be conducted with and for residents. Councilman Johnson has also consistently spoken of the need for the community to be involved in decision-making.
“This is an historic moment for this vital neighborhood,” said Councilman Johnson. “I look forward to supporting the community as we move into a planning process. We will ensure that residents will have a strong voice in the future of their neighborhood, including if and when the City chooses to exercise its purchase option.”
Eastwick, located in southwest Philadelphia, borders the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and the Philadelphia International Airport. Much of the neighborhood is located in a federally designated floodplain and has been subject to chronic stormwater issues and severe flooding from nearby Cobbs and Darby Creeks, as well as the impact of two Superfund sites, sinking homes, and a host of other environmental issues.
In 2012, residents discovered, by accident, that Korman intended to build 722 rental units and 1034 parking spaces on a portion of the larger undeveloped parcel, raising huge concerns from residents and environmental groups. Citing a lack of community input and impact of development on stormwater management and flooding, District Councilman Johnson put a stop to the zoning changes necessary for Korman to build. Instead, Councilman Johnson and Mayor-elect Jim Kenney responded to resident concerns by holding hearings on flooding in Eastwick, spurring a series of efforts to begin mitigating decades-old problems.
“Eastwick residents have been working for years to self-determine the future of their community and move beyond being labeled as a “blighted” neighborhood,” said Amy Laura Cahn, a staff attorney with the Public Interest Law Center and legal counsel to EFNC, along with Dechert LLP. “We know that the Kenney Administration will work with residents to find the best solution for the land. Today’s agreement signals a new era for Eastwick and demonstrates, once again, that communities are powerful.”
Contact: Amy Laura Cahn, Public Interest Law Center, 917-771-3385, email@example.com