Public Letter to Eastwick, Planning Process begins

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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.

Terry Williams
President, Eastwick Friends & Neighbors Coalition

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