WHAT’S NEXT FOR AMERICAN STREET?
For those who live and work in the neighborhoods along American Street, the street is a part of—in fact a central corridor and opportunity within—the neighborhood. It is not a boundary between neighborhoods. Our communities cross American Street daily to go to school, to go to work, to visit family and friends, and to worship.
The land use policies that have been in place for over 50 years have failed to deliver the City’s vision of a thriving industrial corridor, and have failed to acknowledge or respect the community’s needs. Long-time residents have been waiting for decades for our neighborhood’s fallow industrial lots to be rezoned to allow for other uses and many newer residents have come to the neighborhood with the same anticipation. Many felt that the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s [PCPC] Lower North District Plan, adopted last year, would be the opportunity to bring an end to one-sided land use policies that compromise neighborhood health, safety, and vitality.
The Lower North Plan made particularly specific recommendations for the area bounded by 2nd and 6th Streets from Girard Avenue to Berks Street, comprising the majority of South Kensington. While the broad goal of this “American Street Focus Area” was defined as “balancing industrial legacy and neighborhood growth,” many in the neighborhood feel that the direction that land use decisions have taken will not accomplish this, nor do they reflect what the community would like to see.
In Spring 2014, SKCP presented PCPC with a vision statement for American Street suggesting a new model that unites and revitalizes our neighborhood while also accomplishing job growth and economic impact—an achievable vision for American Street that embraces a more modern form of light industrial productivity that can coexist with a wider range of uses and harmonize with adjacent neighborhood streets. The vision is embraced by South Kensington community members, including some of American Street’s business owners themselves. It is not the intent to suggest any relocation of existing industrial businesses—many South Kensington residents would simply like to see things evolve in new directions. While many have anticipated that the new land use regulations would allow American Street and former industrial properties in the neighborhood to transition into a mixed use corridor that knits this barren landscape back into the neighborhood, land use policies drafted by the City would largely prevent this from happening.
One of the outcomes of the District Plan was PCPC’s decision to create a zoning overlay for the American Street corridor as well as a large area of the northwest portion of South Kensington, encompassing most parts of the neighborhood where there are concentrations of industrial zoning, as shown in the map on this page.
An overlay could be one way to bring life to the corridor through a diversification of uses, while also addressing some of our neighborhood’s biggest issues. It is a tool that could be used to prevent incompatibilities between higher impact industrial uses and residential uses, while encouraging a range of positive development on the neighborhood’s expansive supply of vacant formerly industrial properties. Instead, it promises more of the same policies that have failed our neighborhood for decades.
At PCPC’s request, SKCP’s Planning and Zoning Committee hosted a meeting to review the draft overlay regulations in April of this year, attended by at least 38 stakeholders, including residents who live within or nearby the proposed American Street overlay boundary, owners of properties and/or businesses within or nearby the boundary, and individuals employed within or nearby the boundary.
Stakeholders showed solidarity in voicing their opposition to the overlay following the presentation by PCPC. Stakeholders felt very strongly that the overlay area should not only include opportunities for job growth and productivity that harmonize with the surrounding neighborhood context, but should also embrace a wider range of uses to better integrate these areas within our community. Apart from the zoning overlay, streetscape improvements and a new approach to corridor management would both strengthen our neighborhood as a whole and make the overlay area more attractive to modern types of light manufacturing, artisanal production, tech companies, and a range of commercial businesses that will bring far more jobs to the overlay area than would the uses currently proposed for the overlay. There is considerable concern that the proposed overlay is a threat to health, safety, and the continued strengthening of South Kensington, as it would promise to continue the status quo of abandonment and types of industry that are not suitable within a neighborhood.
SKCP gathered 58 surveys from stakeholders in order to represent the land use views of the community. 98% of stakeholders feel that the overlay should allow residential uses, which it currently does not. The draft overlay also would prohibit sales of consumer goods [retail], pharmacies and similar sundry stores, and eating and drinking establishments [except for “prepared food shops”]. 100% of the surveyees agreed that these commercial uses should be allowed in the overlay. The overlay would continue to allow “General Industrial” uses, which are opposed by 84% of the survey participants. By PCPC’s definition, “General Industrial” includes businesses that “create odors, noise, vibration, and other disturbances that would affect adjacent properties.” This would be a problem especially in the many areas where this boundary is right across the street from or directly abutting existing residences.
A detailed summary of the feedback and survey results was shared with the City, accompanied by letters of support for the community’s position from other local organizations. It is unknown as of yet whether the unified voices against the overlay will make an impact on policies, but SKCP is awaiting an opportunity to review the final language.
SKCP continues to collect letters from community members concerned about these zoning policies to help bring more voices into this important advocacy issue. If you would like to provide a letter, please submit it to the SKCP office by Friday, July 31st.