Saturday, October 25, 2014
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Waterfront plan shouldn't be ignored

The award-winning plan for the central Delaware waterfront has been in place for little more than a year, yet it’s already under attack for trying to reconnect Philadelphians with the river.

Waterfront plan shouldn't be ignored

Water taxis bought in 2003 by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp are now moored at the Penn’s Landing Marina. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Water taxis bought in 2003 by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp are now moored at the Penn’s Landing Marina. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)

The award-winning plan for the central Delaware waterfront has been in place for little more than a year, yet it’s already under attack for trying to reconnect Philadelphians with the river.

Several projects slated to go up along the Delaware River recently have won approval from the city despite designs that seem out of sync with the guidelines in the waterfront plan.

That plan was developed over several years, with input from hundreds of stakeholders representing the development and planning communities, organized labor, and conservation, civic, and neighborhood groups.

So it is good to see some concerted pushback — with a potentially game-changing move announced last week by the agency that Mayor Nutter launched to govern the central Delaware.

Should more developers build projects that comply with city's vision for the Delaware River waterfront?
Yes, major stakeholders created the plan for a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood
No, have to let the market drive what gets built on the waterfront
Yes, but it might have to wait until the economy improves
No, unless it's the law, some builders just won't go along

In an effort to get developers to design projects that comply more closely with the master plan’s view of a low-rise neighborhood with public access to the river, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation will do its own review of designs.

Since the agency directed by Thomas P. Corcoran has no enforcement powers — even with top city planner Alan Greenberger as a board member — it has had to stand by while the City Planning Commission decided it was more important to see several recent projects built than comply with the waterfront plan.

But with the DRWC’s launch of a design review committee to size up future projects, there’s at least a better chance that builders will offer plans that do more to advance a smart vision for the central Delaware.

The DRWC is especially well-suited to promote smart planning for the area, having already set a good example with projects like the conversion of the Race Street Pier and plans to bring back water-taxi services on the river.

Developers may be under no legal obligation to submit to the DRWC’s reviews. However, winning the agency’s blessing should come to be seen by progressive developers as a vote of confidence that’s worth courting.

The more carefully planned, the more likely that the city will achieve it’s goal of making the Delaware waterfront a showcase — a goal well worth pursuing.

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